Last April, on an especially windy spring night, longtime Berkeley transient Kevin Freeman was hanging out along his usual stretch of Telegraph Avenue. He was drunk, and his condition made walking difficult. But instead of heading across the Cal campus to the doorway he'd been sleeping in for the previous six months, he sat down on a wide section of sidewalk near Blake Street and continued to drink, adding steadily to a collection of empty beer cans and bottles next to him.
Two UC police officers, Corporal Christine Olivet and Officer Andrew Brown, were patrolling the area and recognized the 55-year-old. Brown asked for ID, and Freeman, with slurred speech, said he had none, but offered his name and birth date. A records check showed he was on probation for repeated public drinking infractions and that an Alameda Superior Court judge had ordered him to stay away from a 24-square-block area known as "the box," which stretches six blocks south from the Berkeley campus to Parker Street. Because Freeman was wasted inside the restricted area, the cops took him into custody.
The officers didn't know it then, but it was the last time they'd ever see Kevin Freeman.
The homeless man couldn't stand on his own, so Olivet and Brown helped him to his feet. Brown then cuffed Freeman's hands behind his back and tried to hold him upright for the short walk to the squad car. Despite the assistance, a yawing Freeman pitched sideways and fell over.
It was yet another ignominious episode for a man who, decades earlier, seemed to have a bright future. Freeman grew up in the middle-class neighborhood of Enola, Pennsylvania. While attending McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, he broke several school swimming records and won a state swimming championship in the backstroke. He later graduated second in his class from Trinity High School and received a full academic scholarship to La Salle University. In the eyes of his younger brother, Terry Freeman, Kevin was the all-American boy. "He had a very dry sense of humor, not loud or obnoxious, just very wry, and he was appreciated for it," Terry recalls. "He was very smart and very popular."
But in his late teens and early twenties, the young man began to withdraw. Doctors at Harrisburg State Hospital diagnosed Kevin with schizophrenia, a condition that was never treated. Shortly after the diagnosis, he left college and headed West with a girlfriend, seeking the dodgy promise of a free-spirited hippie lifestyle. For Kevin, that fleeting dream deteriorated into a 27-year spiral of mental illness, homelessness, and chronic alcoholism.
Kevin still called his elderly mother in Pennsylvania several times a year, but rarely spoke with his brothers, Terry and Brian, or the two daughters he fathered during the 1970s. He apparently had no close friends in Berkeley, although hundreds who lived and worked around Telegraph and Euclid avenues recognized him as the quiet homeless man with the long gray hair and shaggy beard, who always wore red high-top tennis shoes.
"I saw him almost every day sitting on Euclid in front of La Val's or the vacant copy shop," recalls Deborah Tatto, an international student coordinator with UC Berkeley. "He would sit on the sidewalk with his hands clasped around his knees and never bothered anybody. His vibe was quiet, quiet."
Freeman was no angel, of course. In recent years, while drunk, he racked up a few misdemeanor battery charges related to resisting arrest. He also was arrested on a felony drug charge back in 1985, but Freeman has no record of violent behavior in Alameda County. For the most part, he was a harmless drunk who became such a regular customer of the Berkeley police that some of the beat cops developed affection for him. According to police spokeswoman Mary Kusmiss, who has personally busted Freeman on several occasions, officers have cited or arrested him more than fifty times in recent years for public drinking. "He could be a little difficult when he was very drunk, but for the most part he was friendly, cooperative, and even quite charming," she says.
When he did get hauled in and charged, a Superior Court judge would typically sentence Freeman to thirty days at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, a facility run by the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. There he'd take advantage of the opportunity to dry out, but once back on the streets, Freeman would be unable to overcome the demons of mental illness, and would inevitably be drawn back into the cycle of alcohol abuse.
Only this time around, something went terribly wrong.
On May 8, deputies in Santa Rita's Behavioral Health Unit, the jail's psychiatric wing, made a colossal blunder. Someone -- the sheriff's department won't yet say who -- put the older alcoholic in a double cell with twenty-year-old Ryan Lee Raper, a mentally unstable young man who was being held on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. To make things worse, Raper had recently attacked two former cellmates for no apparent reason. One of the court-appointed psychologists who evaluated Raper called him "a time bomb waiting for someplace to explode."
That place, it turned out, was Pod B, Cell 9 of the Behavioral Health Unit, and as fate would have it, Kevin Freeman was there to absorb the force of the blast. Freeman's lifeless body was found in a pool of blood on the cell floor just after three o'clock the next morning. According to court documents, he was beaten so severely that an Alameda County coroner compared his injuries to those suffered by plane crash victims.
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