OAKLAND -- The family of a 67-year-old Berkeley hills homeowner who was beaten to death by a trespasser while he waited for police to arrive has sued the city of Berkeley for wrongful death, personal injury and emotional distress.
Attorney R. Lewis Van Blois of Oakland filed the lawsuit Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of victim Peter Cukor's wife, Andrea Cukor, and their two adult sons, Christopher and Alexander.
On the night of Feb. 18, Cukor and his wife arrived home to find a 23-year-old man, Daniel DeWitt, near their garage and asking to see a woman named Zoey. The couple said they did not know Zoey and told DeWitt to leave.
But DeWitt did not leave, and Peter Cukor called a police line to report him. He then walked to a nearby fire station to ask for help, but crews were out on a call. He returned home and went inside. After several minutes, police did not arrive. Peter Cukor feared officers could not find his home on Park Gate Road because it is not clearly visible from the road, according to the suit, and so he went back outside with a flashlight.
It was then that DeWitt pushed him to the ground, dragged him into the bushes and beat him with a large outdoor flower pot, the lawsuit said. Van Blois said Cukor's "wife watched the fatal attack from her bedroom window and feared for her life."
Shortly after the death, Berkeley police officials said they did not respond to the initial call because officers were monitoring a protest and were responding only to emergency calls for service.
The family has said that Peter Cukor called an "emergency number" listed on the city's website -- although not 911 -- requesting an officer be sent to his home right away because an intruder was acting strangely and trying to get into his home.
Dispatchers told Cukor that an officer would be sent to their home, according to the lawsuit, which says that officers were available to be dispatched. An officer who was near the Cukor home told the dispatchers he could go to the call, the lawsuit said, but was called off.
"(Emergency officials), with gross negligence and in bad faith, specifically directed available officers not to respond to the call," according to the lawsuit. When Andrea Cukor saw the attack, she called 911 and police came.
Representatives from Berkeley police and the city manager's office declined to comment Thursday.
In past statements, police have said the victim "calmly reported" an encounter with a strange person on his property on a police nonemergency line and asked for an officer to respond.
DeWitt, whose family said suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested a short time after the killing. He was deemed mentally unable to stand trial by court appointed doctors and sent to a state psychiatric institution for treatment.