Dec. 2018 reopening of the remodeled UC Berkeley Hillel building. (Photo/file)
Dec. 2018 reopening of the remodeled UC Berkeley Hillel building. (Photo/file)

Berkeley police make arrest after vandalism at three Jewish sites

The Berkeley Police Department has arrested a man suspected of vandalism at Berkeley Hillel, Congregation Beth El and the home of the UC Berkeley Chabad rabbi, all done within 24 hours on April 29-30.

David William Dakota Denton, 39, of no address, was arrested May 2 and charged with burglary, vandalism and destroying property “for the purpose of intimidating/interfering with the free exercise of any right/privilege secured to the person by the Constitution,” which is considered a hate crime.

Police believe Denton is the man who broke into Berkeley Hillel in the early hours of April 30. Director Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman said security cameras showed a man spending “several hours in the building.”

“He left notes that were strange in nature but did not do any damage to any of the property,” Naftalin-Kelman said, adding that the man also rearranged objects in a purposeful but mysterious way.

“I believe that it’s a clear case of someone who’s mentally disturbed,” Naftalin-Kelman said.

Naftalin-Kelman confirmed for J. details from the police report, which described the intrusion into Berkeley Hillel: “During that burglary, the suspect wrote several bizarre messages in English and Hebrew that referenced Judaism, rearranged some items into shrines and also took some items,” the report said.

Before that, the suspect is accused of damaging a mezuzah at the home of Rabbi Gil Leeds in the early pre-dawn hours of April 29. Leeds is director of UC Berkeley Chabad Student Jewish center.

“He tore it off the door” in the backyard, Leeds told J.

That evening, Congregation Beth El on Oxford Street was targeted with “nonsensical” chalked messages, according to executive director David Rothenberg. A mezuzah was slightly broken.

“It’s like a tiny little piece of a mezuzah,” said Rothenberg, adding that Denton was known to Beth El staff as a person who spent time in the neighborhood and that the incident was “upsetting.”

The police arrested Denton, identifying him based on camera footage, on May 2 in Civic Park, which is adjacent to the police station.

“We just want this person to not be allowed back on our property and to get some mental health treatment,” Rothenberg said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.