Berkeley man dies after being released from sobering cell raising questions about his care

A man in his 70s has died most likely of high blood alcohol poisoning after Berkeley police took him to a sobering cell and then released him noting he had a chronic pre-existing medical condition, raising questions in the community about whether he should have received more care.

"This is an outrageous dereliction of their responsibility to provide care for someone in their custody," said Andrea Prichett, a founding member of Copwatch and a former police review commissioner for Berkeley. 

Berkeley Police Officer Byron White told KTVU that the man, whom the coroner has not yet named because next of kin hasn't been notified, died on Sunday, though he didn't know the time.

The man had been picked up Saturday about 8:30 p.m. in the 1400 block of Shattuck Avenue outside Saul's Restaurant because he had been sitting in a parklet drinking a bottle of wine and refusing to leave. 

White said police "considered options other than incarceration" and took the man to a sobering cell in Berkeley. 

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When the man got there, officers "discovered that the man was unable to stay there due to a chronic preexisting medical condition," White said.  

Officers released the man from custody around 11 p.m. without any charges. 

The next morning at 5:23 a.m., officers found the man lying on a curb on Addison Street near McKinley street near the police station.

Police called the fire department to check on him. Fire crews determined he needed to go to the hospital because of his "intoxication and the possibility of hypothermia," White said.

Later that day, the man died at Alta Bates Hospital. The coroner told police that the preliminary cause of death was due to high blood alcohol levels.

Police did not state exactly what time the man died. 

When asked why police didn't get the man medical attention while he was in the sobering cell, White responded: "The man’s medical condition was a preexisting chronic condition."

White added that the police department has "initiated a review of this incident to ensure that we have appropriate policies in place and that relevant department policies were followed." 

The department also looking at "what other community resources may be helpful in similar situations," White said.  

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez