Seth Smith. Photo: Michelle Rode-Smith
Seth Smith was fatally shot in Berkeley in June as he walked on Dwight Way. Photo: Michelle Rode-Smith

The Alameda County district attorney’s office filed felony charges Monday against 60-year-old Berkeley resident Tony Walker in the June killing of 19-year-old Cal student Seth Smith.

Smith had been walking on Dwight Way in southwest Berkeley when someone approached him from behind and shot him at close range in the back of the head without warning or provocation, authorities have said.

On Monday, the DA’s office charged Walker with murder and several other felony firearms violations, according to court records reviewed by Berkeleyside. Walker, a felon on probation who lived within a few hundred feet of where the homicide happened, at Dwight Way and Valley Street, was prohibited from having guns or ammunition because of his criminal record.

Smith was killed Monday, June 15, during one of his regular walks in Berkeley. He lived about a mile east of where he was killed.

“My son never felt like there was anywhere in Berkeley that was unsafe to walk,” his mother, Michelle Rode-Smith, told Berkeleyside on Monday.

Before his death, Smith had been home with his family in the Sacramento area for about three months. But his parents brought him back to Berkeley in early June because he and some of his roommates were moving into a different part of the home they had shared for about a year.

Even when school was in session, Smith would often bus or walk from his home near campus up to the Amtrak station in West Berkeley to head home for the weekend to see his family. The week before he was killed, his mother had texted him to see if he planned to come home for the weekend of June 13-14.

Smith texted back that he and his friends were still waiting for some new roommates to move in. He wanted to stay a bit longer to see them for some bonding time. They had planned a group hike. But he said he’d come home two weeks later.

“We’ll see you on the 25th,” his mom wrote back. “Be safe. I love you.”

It was their last communication.

Charges filed Monday

As of Monday, Walker was still in custody at Santa Rita Jail and was scheduled for arraignment Tuesday at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, according to booking records.

According to charging papers, investigators had obtained a warrant Thursday to arrest Walker on suspicion of murder and probation violation. That day, they found Walker outside his home in the 1400 block of Dwight Way (near Acton Street) and took him into custody.

Documents related to the case say nothing about the circumstances of the homicide except that Smith was found in front of 1360 Dwight Way. He had been shot in the head and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The charges filed against Walker include a long list of felony convictions, including multiple strikes, dating back more than 40 years.

In 1979, according to court records, Walker was convicted of burglary. In the ’80s, he was convicted of burglary, vehicle theft and multiple robbery counts. In the ’90s, there were additional robbery convictions.

In 2001, Walker was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. His next conviction came in 2016 when he was found guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon. He was placed on probation.

Berkeleyside will continue to follow the criminal case through the court system.

“I wish I had him back,” mother says

Seth Smith on a high school graduation trip to Europe. Photo: Michelle Rode-Smith

Since her son’s killing, Rode-Smith has posted often on Twitter to keep the case alive. On Monday, she told Berkeleyside the arrest had given her some measure of comfort. But there’s still a long road ahead.

“I was definitely relieved,” she said. “But also, it’s such mixed feelings. Now we can see how we can get this to a resolution.”

Rode-Smith said both she and her son were stalwart supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. So it had been difficult to see that an older Black man had been arrested for the crime, she said. Walker, she said, had likely suffered a lot in his life and must have “harbored so much anger about what’s happening in the world.”

But it didn’t make what happened to Seth any easier to bear, she said: “It doesn’t give you the right to take my child’s life.”

Rode-Smith said she does not, however, want to see her son’s killing used as fodder by those who want to fan the flames of racial divisiveness.

“Let’s get rid of the hate, period,” she said. “Nobody should feel anger and hatred toward another human because of what they look like.”

“I don’t hate anyone,” Rode-Smith continued, trying to hold back tears. “But I certainly am frustrated and I wish I had my son back.”

Police have asked anyone with information that may be relevant to the case to call BPD’s Homicide Unit at 510-981-5741.

Emilie Raguso

Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...

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43 Comments

  1. “I don’t hate anyone,” Rode-Smith said, well your son’s killer Tony Walker definitely was full of hate. And case should be tried as such.

  2. Less than 3 hours of instruction 4 days a week is NOT cutting it! Teachers are working part time while our kids are suffering! Remember when the teachers were picketing a while back? The slogan was “its about the kids” WELL what happened to “its about the kids”? BUSD is doing an irreversible disservice to our children! The whole admin team on Bonar st should be FIRED!

  3. If they did it every time someone was wielding two knives in a park with children, I’d double their allocation. Do you have stats on how often that happens?

  4. The other reason is insistence on six day delivery for most addresses. The USPS has more than 228,000 polluting vehicles. Going to 3 day home delivery would save money, reduce pollution, and not affect the election at all. Packages are largely delivered separately so they would not be affected either.

  5. “And not all black people have been suffering and to say that all black people are being oppressed is ridiculous.”– That’s not true. Being black makes a person far more likely to be treated badly under the emotional logic that any crime committed by a black person is committed by all black people.

    I personally used to be a young white cab driver aeons ago, as such I belonged to an automatically disrespected class and had several disappointing encounters with “authority”. (Not around here however). Just by changing profession and get older I am now treated very differently. I can estimate how much worse that experience would have been if I were black.

  6. Another frequent flyer with previous arrests for weapons and assaults:

    March 2019, Berkeley Marina arrest: Remove or alter federal or state regulated markings from firearm; Violent Felon in Possession of Body Armor; etc.

    December 8, 2019, Albany arrest: Robbery, Assault w/ Deadly Weapon or Assault w/ Force likely to produce GBI, etc.

    December 12, 2019, Alameda Co SD arrest: Violent Felon in Possession of Body Armor; Possess Control Substance Paraphernalia; etc See: https://www.localcrimenews.com/welcome/detail/34842238/marty-schwind-arrest.html

    So, if the robbery and assault didn’t get him locked up, it seems very unlikely that the mere possession of knives will result in any penalty. Should we assume he’s already released? A picture would be helpful so we can be on the alert in the Marina where he seems to hang out.

    Why do we have so many disturbed individuals in Berkeley? Is it better services for the indigent, more tolerance of antisocial behavior, turning a blind eye to drug dealing (especially meth)? My guess would be the meth which causes anxiety, psychosis and often permanent and irreversible damage to brain cells. Our hands-off policy regarding drug selling and use in Berkeley appears to be creating a whole class of disturbed individuals. We enable the self-destruction. I wonder how many destroyed lives resulted from Berkeley disbanding the Drug Task Force in 2016. Interesting 2017 article on the time when Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilman Ben Bartlett promised to increase police staffing and revive a recently disbanded specialized crime suppression unit – https://berkeleyside-newspack.newspackstaging.com/2017/02/27/berkeley-mayor-councilman-pledge-increase-police-resources

  7. Love the photo. What would Berkeley be without a bunch of gray ponytails carrying protest signs?

  8. Our relative peace may be down to local cult members travelling around to other hot spots. There is no reason to assume that we will be spared the arson, looting and shooting other left wing communities in the Pacific NW have worked to draw upon themselves since none of our own politicians have promised a different approach. I’m sorry for your hometown, just as I grieve for mine.. Are Kenosha politicians as compromised by sectarian ideology as our institutions here ?

  9. You are stretching logic to score a point, sounds fake. So many Americas were brought up in multiple areas but everybody was born in only ONE place.

  10. You only drive and never walk? Thanks for pushing up everybody’s health insurance rates.
    Conversely, while I think it important to maintain mains roads, I think residential side roads are not important. They (should) never account for more than the last 1/2 mile of a journey, at 25mph or less. A sensible place to cut costs.

  11. This whole dialog is so dumb. Maybe we should give the Italians grief for using tomatoes or everyone for taking chocolate from the Americas, the Irish and their appropriation of potato and everyone’s use of corn and Chile peppers. All of which came from the Americas.

  12. Our high school experience:
    1) AP teachers told my children that they cannot cover all AP content give the reduced instructional time. Is there is any plan to support students to take the AP exams?
    2) We are paying for tutors to support on the AP classes but cannot get the curriculum or texts for the classes that start in the second term (teachers emailed, no response).
    3) Reader texts for some classes are still not ready and we received the wrong reader for another class. There is no response from BHS regarding how to get the correct reader now (can we get a PDF copy?). Many thanks to the volunteers who worked hard to distribute texts. Our concern is that we spent over three hours waiting to get texts and think this could have been planned better.
    4) One sub teacher reports they have no curriculum for the assigned class and there is no text book. The teacher also tells students they do not know how to use Google classroom and are not paid to learn how to. 1.5 weeks into the first 4 week term – my child has spent their time watching videos in class.
    5) BUSD messaged that Wednesdays at BHS would be by teacher invitation only. My kids received no invitation, did not sign in and were marked absent. We would be happy if BHS agreed to provide additional instruction on Wednesdays.
    6) BHS teachers tell students they teach 2 periods per day. I think the distance learning agreement between the union and BUSD should be public.

  13. Maybe. But imagine if the BPD did that every time? You wouldn’t be de-funding the police, you’d be doubling their allocation.

  14. I generally don’t complain, period. But to answer your questions, I doubt I would have dispatched 13 ( ! ) SUVs to deal with One Crazy Dude.

  15. I’m surprised that different elementary schools have different schedules set up. At my daughter’s school, this week they had eight 45 minute periods of live instruction, for the entire week. At another school, it appears as if they’re getting seventeen 45 minute periods of instruction per week. This is at the 4th grade level at both schools. I’m not 100% sure this is accurate, but based on the schedules I’ve seen it appears to be. Can you look into this? Having such a large discrepancy seems shocking to me.

  16. Can you elaborate? Is the implicit message that it’s so nice to see 4 men of color from Oakland attending UC Berkeley that it’s more important to see their smiling faces (it is truly a nice photo) than comply with the mask and social distancing regulations.

  17. If he is this young mans killer, I want him to suffer greatly. You really took what I said seriously?

  18. More important, Mr. DeJoy couldn’t estimate, even within 10 million, how many Americans voted by mail in 2016 (more than 30 million). When questioned by Rep. Katie Porter, he admitted not having analyzed recent USPS problems, like the decrease of on-time deliveries, the collection boxes taken away, along with high-speed mail-sorting equipment (in swing states). He even claimed that he hadn’t ordered these overhauls. Porter asked who did; DeJoy: “I don’t know.” I’ve heard of delegating, but this is ridiculous. We’re not seeing a canny businessman at work, but a rich flunky who donated more than $1 million to Trump’s campaign this year. My grandfather and father were postal clerks, and proud to be civil servants; they would be disgusted by this so-called postmaster’s mendacity.

  19. I’m curious if Mr Walker owns a car matching that allegedly witnessed leaving the murder scene. Also, if his person matches the description of the driver (if noticed at the time).

    Peace.

  20. PLEASE explain what part of my comment is not factual? These type of crimes happen at the highest rate in the most liberal cities in our United States.

  21. Intended irony, in questionable taste.

    That said, even if Walker is found not guilty (note, there is no such thing as a verdict of “innocent”), if there’s any indication of other parole violations, he should stay locked up. (I’m assuming the system can’t go back and correct its obvious failure to keep him out of circulation previously.)

  22. Big brother – How many cars would you use to block pedestrian traffic into the area? How many officers would you put out on foot to make sure the critter didn’t scamper off into someone’s yard? You certainly wouldn’t complain if BPD under-responded and something bad happened, would you?

  23. This arrest, or course, has brought up the subject of race. Several people have commented that it should be classified as a hate crime, but others disagree. In any case, there have been no protests. Meanwhile, my old home town, namely Kenosha, WI is being vandalized and burned by prtotestors – not peaceful protestors by any means. You can read all about it at http://www.kenoshanews.com.

  24. Based on internet search, 1431 A Dwight just a few hundred ft from 1360 where the murder took place.

  25. People are naturally more afraid of going out at night, but crimes occur in broad daylight too. Better be alert at all times, wherever you go.

  26. I don’t think any of it is unintended. Also pretty sure police can’t arrest on assumption. I think it’s probable cause, and given this area and this judiciary I think it’s more like absolute certainty.

  27. Of course it’s never 100% anything, but that’s missing the point that we need more safety, security, and POLICE in Berkeley. Some violent folks out there.

  28. “A leaf blower in 30 minutes of operation…is, in fact, emitting more hydrocarbons than driving an f 150 or any light-duty pick up from New York City to Los Angeles.” –EPA

  29. I know that the district’s hands are tied right now, but I really hope they offer an in person option as soon as the county allows. My wife and I both have full time jobs and this is basically impossible.

    I have 3 children, 1 in elementary, 1 in middle school, and 1 at BHS. The system isn’t working well at any level. Some of the teachers are trying hard. Some appear to be more or less on vacation. The ones who suffer the most are the elementary school children. You just cannot learn to read and write over the computer. Writing is an especially difficult skill for parents to teach. There is a lot more to it than having them repeat writing letters over and over again.
    My big concern is that the teachers will refuse to go back to work even when they are asked to do so. I just can’t imagine my 7 year old going for 1-1/2 years without organized school.

    I was extremely disappointed that the district didn’t offer any solutions for working families. They’ve got loads of outdoor space at the schools that is completely unused. They’ve got all of the afterschool care people who are not working. How could they not figure this out? The city offered their “Fun Camps” in the afternoon as an alternative, but there were so few spots offered that no one in the general population could get a spot. All the spots were allocated in advance to children who were in the summer Fun Camps and some families who got access through needs based scholarships. This is all good, but it represents a tiny fraction of all the kids in Berkeley. What about the rest of us who need to work?

    The district did a very poor job with preparation. I know a couple teachers in the district. They did ZERO planning until the week before school. We had 5 months to prepare for this. In a city with this many smart people, we should be leading the nation in creative solutions. Instead, we got a big sloppy pile of half measures.

  30. It’s curious that this article and the district messaging is that elementary choice time zoom classes are optional, when at my child’s school it’s been made clear that they are mandatory as part of attendance.

  31. To be fair most handguns come stock with a “high capacity magazine”.California’s stupid law limiting handgun mags to only 10 rounds is the only one I know about. Now if most handgun seizures had 30 rounds magazines then I can see it being a issue but again almost any handgun comes with a 10+ round magazine straight from the factory.