Suspect Arrested in Pacific Center Hate Crime Attacks

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday February 13, 2007

Staff is breathing easier at Berkeley’s 14-year-old support center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. 

A man suspected of making death threats against Pacific Center for Human Growth staff and vandalizing the Telegraph Avenue headquarters was arrested in Concord Saturday night, according to Juan Barajas, Pacific Center’s executive director. 

“It’s nice to know this person is in custody,” Barajas said. 

A man matching the suspect’s description showed up at the Rainbow Center in Concord on Saturday night, asking about suicide hot lines. The Concord Center had already received information about the threats and was looking out for the individual, Barajas said. 

Over the past several weeks, the Pacific Center had received three death threats and experienced one instance of vandalism on Feb. 3, when a man, believed to be the same person making the threats, had kicked in glass on the center’s front door (or, according to Berkeley police, had thrown something through the glass in the door).  

The suspect was described by the Pacific Center staff as a white male in his mid-to-late 20s, with blond hair, about 6-feet-tall, weighing 220 pounds. (Berkeley police describe the man as similar in height and weight, but at 40 years old with gray hair.)  

“Anxiety at the center was really high,” Barajas said. “People were afraid to come to work.” 

The center hired security guards as a result of the incidents and will keep security higher, even though the suspect is in custody, Barajas said. “We are especially at risk of being targeted.” 

The center is no stranger to threats, but Barajas said these were especially frightening because the individual targeted youth, referring to Columbine High School, where 12 young people were killed by two classmates in 1999. The suspect also made reference to Matthew Shepard, a gay man brutally murdered in Wyoming in 1998, Barajas said.  

The threats have been especially disheartening because “the center is a sanctuary for a lot of people,” Barajas said, calling them, “the ultimate punch in the stomach.” 

Center staff believes that the suspect may have participated in youth programs at a Pacific Center youth program in Walnut Creek in the mid-1990s. 

According to Barajas, the suspect has been hospitalized and is on suicide watch. Neither Concord nor the Berkeley police could be reached on Monday for details or to confirm the arrest.  

On Friday, Berkeley police spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss told the Planet that even though the suspect may have participated in programs at the Pacific Center, the crimes were investigated as hate crimes. 

The California Penal Code specifies that death threats to a “protected class” are considered hate crimes, she said, explaining: “It is possible for a person of a protected class to threaten violence to persons of their own class. We take these threats particularly seriously.” 

It will be up to the district attorney to charge the suspect.