Berkeley ‘ambassador’ fired after homeless beating

A community ambassador with a downtown Berkeley merchants group has been fired for repeatedly punching a homeless man who had used explicit language and threatened to kill him, the ambassador’s supervisor said Friday.

Lance Gore, the operations manager for the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the homeless man and a second homeless man who was with him in an incident in an alleyway behind a CVS pharmacy at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Bancroft Way at about 7 p.m. on March 19 were “very combative and verbally abusive.”

But Gore said the male ambassador, who was accompanied by a female ambassador, should have maintained a safe distance from the two homeless people, de-escalated the situation and called police if he truly felt in danger. Gore said:

“There’s no shame in disengaging and calling the police. That’s what we train.”

Gore said he fired the ambassador who punched one of the homeless men “because he didn’t follow our protocol.” He said the female ambassador has been suspended pending an investigation into the incident, which was captured on a video that’s been posted on YouTube.

Gore didn’t release the names of the two ambassadors, but according to court documents the male ambassador is Jeffrey Bailey and the female ambassador is Carmen Francois. John Caner, the Downtown Berkeley Association’s chief executive, said:

“This is a tragic situation and involved egregious and violent behavior and is contrary to all of our protocols and training.”

The downtown ambassador program is funded by the Downtown Improvement District and began in April 2012. Caner said the main purpose of the ambassador program is to promote hospitality and beautification in the downtown area. He said ambassadors aren’t trained to provide security for downtown businesses but do respond to businesses who report problems getting homeless people to move.

Caner said on March 19 ambassadors were first called to the alleyway behind CVS at 3 p.m. when store managers reported there was a homeless encampment of four or five people. He said most of the homeless people complied and left but one of them stayed on. Ambassadors were called back to the site two more times, at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. that day, according to Caner.

Berkeley police Officer Donovan Edwards wrote in a probable cause statement that in the 7 p.m. confrontation, James Cocklereese, 40, “used explicit language, raised his fist and charged the victim (Bailey) in an attempt to cause a physical altercation.”

Cocklereese also threatened to kill the victim (Bailey) and their whole family,” Edwards said. The officer said a second homeless man, 23-year-old Nathan Swor, “brandished and assaulted the same victim (Bailey) with a deadly weapon,” which he said was a 6-foot-long pole with a 4-inch blade at its tip.

Edwards said one of the ambassadors suffered a minor scrape on their forearm area from blocking the police but he didn’t specify which one. Cocklereese had small traffic warrants out of San Francisco and a non-extraditable robbery warrant out of Oregon, according to Edwards.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office charged Swor with two counts of misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and two misdemeanor counts of exhibiting a deadly weapon and charged Cocklereese with one misdemeanor count of disturbing the peace by offensive language, one misdemeanor count of battery and one misdemeanor count of making criminal threats.

District Attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said Swor and Cocklereese both pleaded no contest to a lesser misdemeanor battery charge earlier this week and were sentenced to probation. She said both homeless men are scheduled to return to court on May 18 for a determination of the restitution they must pay to the ambassador who suffered minor injuries.

Drenick said no charges have been filed against Bailey for punching Cocklereese. But she said prosecutors will review the videotape of the incident once it’s forwarded to them. Drenick said:

“As in any case, when we receive new evidence we will review it and then make an evaluation.”