Berkeley Police homicide investigators dispute an Alameda County deputy district attorney who said they lacked sufficient evidence to charge two sisters as accessories to the 1970 murder of a Berkeley policeman.
“We strongly disagree with that statement,” said Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes, who is spearheading the “cold case” investigation into the slaying of Officer Ronald Tsukamoto.
Three times in four weeks, Alameda County prosecutors have decided not to charge suspects arrested by the Berkeley Police Department in connection with the city’s first-ever cop killing.
“We elected not to charge based on insufficient evidence,” said Assistant District Attorney Max Jacobson.
Asked why two sisters and a man with alleged ties to the Black Panthers had been arrested in the first place, Jacobson replied, “You’d have to ask the Berkeley Police Department.”
Jacobson’s office declined to charge sisters Joyce Gaskin and Joy Hall last Friday, three days after the two women surrendered themselves to Berkeley officers. The officers had a judicial warrant for Gaskin’s and Hall’s arrests on suspicion of being accessories after the fact to the Aug. 20, 1970, murder of Officer Ronald Tsukamoto, the first Asian American to wear a Berkeley Police badge.
Tsukamoto had been on the job less than a year when he was gunned down by a man who approached him after Tsukamoto made a routine traffic stop of a motorcyclist.
The first aborted arrest in the case came on May 24, when Berkeley officers arrested Don Juan Warren Graphenreed in the Fresno jail where he was being held pending trial on an unrelated burglary charge.
Police announced the Graph-enreed arrest, only to agree to his release two days later when the district attorney’s office declined to press charges.
“They presented paperwork on all three cases, and in each case were determined there was insufficient evidence to charge at this time,” Jacobson said.
Asked if the D.A.’s office had played any part in the investigation, Jacobson said, “This is, was and always has been a Berkeley Police Department investigation.”
“The decision to serve the warrant on Graphenreed was made at our request,” countered Lopes, “and the decision not to charge was made jointly by us and the district attorney’s office. There was every reason to serve the warrant and bring him here, and he can be charged at any time.”
“It’s inappropriate to lump all three cases together,” said Lopes, explaining that the decision not to charge the sisters was an entirely different matter, “as different as day and night” from the Graphenreed decision.
“To get the warrants, you have to determine to a judge’s satisfaction that a crime was committed and that there is probable cause for the arrest—and a well-qualified judge of the Alameda County Superior Court said there was reasonable cause to issue the warrant.”
While defense attorneys for the sisters argued that their arrests took place decades after the statute of on accessory charges had lapsed, Lopes said he “vehemently disagreed.”
The detective said the three-year statute of limitations started tolling when Berkeley Police reopened the case two years ago and first interviewed the sisters.
“We concentrated on them because they were intimate witnesses to what happened,” Lopes said. “They’ve lied and made up fabrications,” which he said established the basis for the charges police sought to press.
“It’s a complex case. It’s 34 years old and all of the witnesses are dead,” Lopes said. “Obviously, we have a battle with the district attorney’s office.”
Lopes acknowledged that prosecutors need more evidence to bring a case to trial than police need to make an arrest. “We’ll go back and get what they need,” he said. “We will not be deterred on this case.”›