Berkeley cops seek cafe robbers

- Here is KTVU crime reporter Henry Lee's Rap Sheet blog for Feb. 8, 2017: 

CAFE ROBBERIES: Berkeley police are investigating a spree of cafe robberies that targeted people working on their laptops.

The first holdup happened at a cafe on the 1700 block of Solano Avenue in North Berkeley at about 10:35 a.m. Friday. Two patrons were robbed of their laptops by three young men who fled in a car. 

The second robbery happened at a cafe on the 2600 block of College Avenue about 8:10 p.m. Saturday. A customer's laptop and cell phone were stolen by two robbers, one of whom was armed with a gun. They too fled in a car.

The third incident happened at Espresso Roma at 2960 College at the corner of Ashby Avenue in the Elmwood District about 8:45 p.m. Sunday. Three young men, one of them armed with a gun, stole several laptops. They were last seen running west on Ashby.

During the incident, one of the victims scuffled with one of the intruders and got his laptop back. Victims told police the robbers wore bandanas covering their faces.

The fourth heist happened at a cafe on the 2700 block of College just minutes later. Two suspects, one of whom was armed, stole a laptop before they fled in a waiting car.

The most recent incident was reported at 2:45 p.m. Monday at a cafe on the 2900 block of College. Two teenagers stole a laptop from a customer.

Investigators are trying to determine if all five incidents are linked. Police are reviewing surveillance video.

Anyone with information is asked to call Berkeley police at (510) 981-5742.

AUTO BURGLAR GETS PRISON: A man described by authorities as a prolific auto burglar will serve three years behind bars.

Kristen "Jason" Bell, 32, of San Francisco was sentenced Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court after a jury convicted him of auto burglary, receiving stolen property, resisting arrest and possessing burglary tools.

On Sept. 16, Bell broke into a car at Washington and Drumm streets near the Embarcadero and stole backpacks containing $3,000 worth of laptops, electronics and gift cards.

Officers caught him in the act and tried to run away but tripped over his own feet. At the time of the incident, he had already been charged in a different case with nine counts of auto burglary. A judge had released him over prosecutors' objections.

Bell will return to court March 20 to address the earlier charges, authorities said.

The prosecution comes as San Francisco is struggling to put a dent in auto burglaries throughout the city.

"A small number of auto burglars are responsible for the majority of these crimes," District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement. "Our focus on serial offenders, couple with SFPD's enhanced enforcement, is continuing to yield measurable results, but there's more work to be done. I strongly urge motorists to remain diligent and avoid leaving any valuables visible in their vehicles."

MASSAGE THERAPIST ACQUITTED: A San Francisco massage therapist accused of inappropriately touching a client's breast has been found not guilty, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said today.

Pete Hopkins, 50, could have faced up to a year in jail and would have been forced to register as a sex offender had he been convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery.

Instead, jurors determined that Hopkins had only inadvertently touched the woman's chest during a full-body massage at a lower Pacific Heights massage clinic in July.

After the session, the woman left Hopkins a tip. But hours later, the woman told her boyfriend that Hopkins had touched her inappropriately. The man called 911 and reported that his girlfriend had been sexually assaulted, according to Adachi.

As part of the investigation, a police sergeant listened in as the woman called Hopkins and confronted him about the massage.

"Hopkins explained that he was using a lymphatic drainage technique that involved the chest and under-arm area and apologized for making the woman feel uncomfortable, insisting it was never his intention," Adachi said.

 During the trial, the clinic's receptionist testified that the woman didn't seem upset after the massage. Six character witnesses, including female clients, testified that they never had any problems with Hopkins and that in fact he was always professional with them during their sessions.

"A full-body massage, by its very nature, is an inherently intimate act. It’s easy to see how a client might mistakenly think a certain touch was sexual, when in reality the therapist’s intent was purely therapeutic," said Hopkins' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Will Helvestine. "Here, the jury was able to see that Pete had no sexual intent whatsoever. He was just trying to do his job."

You can see Henry Lee daily on KTVU. If you have a tip for Henry, send an email to Henry.Lee@foxtv.com or contact him on Twitter

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