Flash: Stabbing Charge Dropped in Berkeley's People's Park Tree-Sit; Midnight Matt Released From Jail Around Midnight

By Ted Friedman
Tuesday April 05, 2011 - 01:38:00 PM

Follow the synchronicity.

Matthew Dodt, 53,aka "Midnight Matt", who defended himself with a camping knife from tree invasion in his tree in People's Park only to wind up in Santa Rita Jail, was released shortly before midnight Monday, according to a releasing officer at the jail.

He served 61 days in Santa Rita and 91 days in the tree. The synchronicity is in there somewhere. 

The case against him, which began as attempted murder, then assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a police helmet, has shrunk to aiming a laser at University police—in the final days of a muddled tree-sit protest in the park. 

The prosecution's case collapsed when the stabbing victim flouted a subpoena to testify Monday morning at Manuel Wiley Courthouse in Oakland. One of the victim's close friends—contacted later in the park and also a refusing witness—believes his friend may have been arrested. 

University police logs show no such arrest and calls to key UCPD lieutenants have not, as of this writing, been returned. 

Nevertheless, the two refusenik witnesses, who prefer not to be named, may emerge as unsung heroes in the case, even though they caused the case. One of them told me Monday that university police were "playing" the two to instigate the arrest of the tree-sitter. "They said things like, are you going to let those guys bring more heat down on the park." 

Not only did the stabbing victim and another witness refuse, early on, to testify, but they have tried to make peace in the park, one of them donating mulch and labor recently to help Project Berkeley build a "peace garden," near "Camp Hate." 

CampHate is the peace and philosophy-loving encampment presided over by Berkeley's Hate Man. 

Alameda County Judge, Rhonda Burgess, tired of the prosecution's delays, denied one final delay, noting that the case had passed the sixty day mark which requires a defendant be brought to trial in sixty days. 

"You had plenty of time to present your case," the judge scolded the prosecutor. "Your witness was subpoenaed two weeks ago." 

Dodt refused to plea bargain—according to his friends. Not considered a flight risk, he was released on his own recognizance. 

He must return to court Mar. 18th, 9 a.m. to face the laser aiming charges which his attorney, C. Zadik Shapiro, says could carry a 6 months to a year sentence. He has served 60 plus days. 

According to Dodt’s volunteer attorney, “We are glad that the District Attorney did the right thing and dismissed the case. Now Matt will be released and do what he likes to do—work for a better community and a better world." 

But will that better world include Dodt's return to his tree? He has a decade long history working with SF's Coalition to end homelessness, tried to include assistance to the homeless among the tree-sit demands, and might want to protest again. 

A close friend, who has been in touch with Matt in jail, says that he has much on his mind, including finding new housing (he previously had shared housing in Oakland) and will not be making any statements for at least a few days. 

Zachary Running Wolf Brown, 47, who organized the People's Park tree-sit protest, would like to get his number one sitter back in a tree in the park, although not necessarily the original one which got a thorough pruning the night Dodt was arrested. 

Running Wolf has been hard at work constructing new platforms for the sit, he has said. 

As the stabbing shows, the tree-sit in the park never was understood or accepted in the park, where UCPD never lost an opportunity to blame the sit for increased police patrols and citations in the park. 

Then there was the inherent problems with the core demands of the protest, a hodgepodge of complaints, which grew after a District 7 councilman's calls for park reform, were rejected by voters. See "Up a Limb: Trying to Understand Latest People's Park Tree-Sit," Nov. 30, 2010, the Planet, for a full account. 

Perhaps as the park anticipates the warmth of spring and looks forward to its 42 year anniversary celebration April 24, featuring speakers and Indy bands, we are headed for some Rodney King moments. 


Ted Friedman has lived a half block from People's Park for 35 years.