Berkeley man charged with getting drunk on church altar wine, dressing himself in choir robes

BERKELEY — A Berkeley resident has been arrested and charged with a felony for allegedly walking into a local episcopal church, drinking the altar wine and helping himself to some choir robes on his way out the door.

The suspect, a 34-year-old unsheltered man who was living in Berkeley, was linked to the crime based on eyewitness accounts and a DNA test on the the unfinished bottle of altar wine conducted by police. He was charged with one count of second-degree burglary and is being held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in lieu of $5,000 bail.

The man was arrested Thursday on suspicion of burglary, a probation violation on a prior burglary conviction and possession of a controlled substance. He is scheduled to go to court for an arraignment hearing on Monday.

Authorities allege that last Nov. 6, an employee at the St. Clement’s Episcopal Church on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley noticed the man leaving the church, dressed in a red cassock and white cotta. The man claimed he’d been given the robes and walked off.

Upon further investigation, the employee discovered a half-empty bottle of altar wine still inside the church.

It turned out the suspect was well-known to police and neighbors on upper Claremont Avenue. He’d been arrested in connection with prior burglaries in the area, was a suspect in seven area break-ins since 2020 and had a court order banning him from being within 100 yards of a nearby property, according to court records.

He was arrested in late November, but released pending further investigation. The Alameda County District Attorney’s office filed a one-count felony complaint against him on March 14.

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