Update: Suspect Arrested in Durant Avenue Killing

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 15, 2008 - 04:52:00 PM
Nathaniel Freeman
Nathaniel Freeman

Berkeley police arrested 19-year-old Berkeley resident Nathaniel Curtis Freeman Wednesday afternoon and charged him with the murder of Maceo Anthony Smith, who was shot to death on Durant Avenue Tuesday. 

Freeman, who turned himself in to police, was booked for one count of murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the attack which left Smith dead and wounded another man who has yet to be identified by police. 

He is currently being held in Berkeley City Jail and is scheduled to appear in Alameda County Superior Court tomorrow. 

According to police reports, Smith and an acquaintance were arguing with Freeman around 3:49 p.m. Tuesday about a previous encounter. 

“From what we have been able to piece together, the second victim was in the area of Durant and Telegraph alone when he spotted Freeman and recognized him from a prior recent encounter,” Kusmiss said. 

“He followed Freeman and according to witnesses, the second victim started what is often termed on the street as ‘chipping at him,’” Kusmiss said. 

“The two of them walked east of Telegraph up on Durant arguing, and the second victim called Smith and asked him to join him on Durant.” 

After Smith arrived, the three of them continued to argue for about 20 minutes, Kusmiss said, and then continued eastbound on Durant to the area near the Pacific Film Archive. 

Freeman changed his direction and walked westbound, with the two older men following him while they continued to argue. 

“The three crossed Durant at Bowditch Street and on the Southwest corner of Bowditch and Durant, Freeman pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and fired at the two men, striking both multiple times,” Kusmiss said. 

“The two victims fled westbound to the Douglas parking lot, where Smith collapsed and the acquaintance took off in his silver cadillac.” 

The second victim, whose name the Berkeley Police Department has not yet released, drove himself to Highland Hospital where he was treated for non-life-threatening gunshot wounds to his shoulder and arm and released Tuesday evening. 

Smith, who was shot in the throat a couple of times, was pronounced dead at the scene when Berkeley paramedics arrived. 

Kusmiss said detectives had a good sense of the gun—which they did not want to disclose—and that the weapon had not been found yet. 

“We would like to interview the second victim to get more details, although according to his constitutional rights he can refuse to be interviewed,” Kusmiss said. 

The search for Freeman took nearly 24 hours on the case, including a search of Freeman’s home, interviews, line-ups with witnesses and multiple surveillances of several Berkeley and Oakland locations, according to police. 

Kusmiss said Freeman was aware Berkeley police were searching for him. 

“During the overnight hours after the murder, detectives learned he was the shooter in the crime,” Kusmiss said. 

“He was positively identified by a number of eyewitnesses and detectives were able to develop probable cause to secure a warrant to search his house for any evidence of the crime. Detectives met with several family members at his house who had been communicating with Freeman. That likely was the catalyst for him coming to us.” 

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Freeman turned himself in to Berkeley Police Department Homicide detectives at the Ron Tsukamoto Public Safety Building. He was accompanied by an attorney and declined to be interviewed regarding the crime. 

“BPD Homicide detectives say that cooperation from a diversity of witnesses and the great work of members of the University of California Police Department proved invaluable in the pursuit of a murder suspect,” Kusmiss said. 

“We wish to stress how grateful we are to the community members that cooperated with the scary and challenging investigation by providing witness statements, viewed line-ups ... without them, this swift arrest may not have been possible.” 

Kusmiss said the district attorney’s office would review the case late Friday morning and consider whether to charge Freeman with murder. 

Smith’s body was at the Douglas parking lot for almost 3 hours after he collapsed there Tuesday, police said, since the Alameda County Coroner’s office was unable to show up at the scene earlier. 

His family—most of whom live in Berkeley, Richmond and Oakland—were alerted about the shooting by the second victim when he was driving to Highland Hospital, Kusmiss said. 

“We recognize it was a very very devastating experience for the family to be held at bay and endure those hours while officers were investigating the incident,” she said. 

“But it’s important to remember our goal is to catch the killer.” 

Kusmiss said both Freeman and Smith have a criminal history and were arrested by Berkeley police in the past for a number of offenses. 

“We are familiar with both of them, but as a public information officer I am not allowed to give out a listing of charges,” she said. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett expressed shock at the incident at the Berkeley school board meeting Wednesday night. Smith, a Berkeley High alumnus, was the parent of three children in the public schools, one in middle school and two in elementary school. 

“One of our parents was shot and murdered yesterday,” he said. “His children are at Willard and Emerson schools. I have spoken to the principals and my condolences are with the family.” 

The City of Berkeley’s mental health department is offering counseling services to students and staff at Willard, where three of Smith’s family members either work or are enrolled. 

Another Berkeley resident, who did not want to be identified, told the Planet that he played basketball frequently with Smith at the Downtown YMCA for the past four years. 

“[Smith was] a big hearted guy who was always the first to help up a fallen teammate. He was a regular at our pick up games,” he said. “He cared a lot about his children. You could just tell the way he spoke about them and behaved with them. I remember he had a great smile. 

The young man said inside Smith’s tough exterior lay a gentleman. 

“When you knew him, he was very kind,” he said. “Basketball is a very physical game and he was quick to include children in his games. He was strong without being rough... He was one of us at the Y.”