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‘MAGA’ hat-wearing swordsman in SF arrested, bail set at $1 million, police say

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 4/5/2019 By Matthias Gafni, Lauren Hernandez and Kevin Fagan

A man who allegedly drew a sword and slashed another man after having his “Make America Great Again” hat knocked off was arrested near his home in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, authorities said Thursday.

Officers on Wednesday evening were staking out the low-rent residential hotel at the corner of Eddy and Larkin streets where Leor Bergland, 30, lived, then moved in on the suspect when they saw him at a nearby restaurant, police said. He surrendered quietly, they said.

Police say the arrest closes the loop, for now, on one of the more bizarre mysteries — and attacks — to have occurred in the city for some time.

Around 10 p.m. last Friday, a 27-year-old Berkeley man was standing near the intersection of Fillmore and Oak streets by the Church of 8 Wheels roller skating rink when he saw Bergland wearing the red MAGA hat, which is popular among President Trump supporters. The man swatted the hat off Bergland’s head, police said — and in return, Bergland whipped out a sword and badly slashed the victim’s left hand.

Despite bleeding profusely, the victim and a witness chased after the attacker, but abruptly backed off when “he turned and began advancing toward them,” according to a police account. The victim left a wide pool of blood on the sidewalk as he was taken to a hospital and treated for his non-life-threatening wounds, officials said.

From his cell at the San Francisco City Jail, Bergland on Thursday declined a Chronicle request for an interview.

He was booked on suspicion of attempted murder, mayhem, and weapons and assault charges. His bail is set at $1 million, according to jail records.

According to court records, this is not first time Bergland has been accused of brandishing a blade.

In October 2012, Bergland was charged in two incidents in one week in Multnomah County, Oregon. According to court records, he was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing, unlawful entry into a vehicle and third-degree theft, along with felony criminal mischief. All charges were eventually dismissed, though it is unclear why.

The events started on Oct. 13, 2012, shortly before midnight, when a man went to unlock his van on a Portland street and found Bergland hunched over in the backseat, Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office spokesman Brent Weisberg said. The man removed Bergland from the van, threw him to the ground and held him down. Bergland pulled a knife from his pants pocket, opened the blade and waved it at the man, Weisberg said.

Passersby separated the pair and the knife from Bergland and held him until police arrived, Weisberg said.

Two days later, Portland State University police cited Bergland for trespassing in the second degree, Weisberg said, but he had no details of the events. The citation had the wrong date, so prosecutors asked the department to re-issue the citation, but that was not done, Weisberg said.

Back in San Francisco, Bergland apparently didn’t make many ripples at his home in the Elk Hotel, an 88-unit supportive housing complex for formerly homeless people.

Some at the hotel on Thursday recognized him as a resident, but none said he stood out in any particular way.

Alex Mohamed, manager of the next-door Gladstone Market Deli & Liquor, told The Chronicle that Bergland sometimes would pop in twice a day at his store.

“He’s quiet,” Mohamed said. “If I say ‘hi’ to him, he barely says ‘hi’ back.”

Last Friday’s slashing happened outside the rink as it was hosting its adults-only roller disco night. Scott Sweeney, 24, said he saw a man he thinks is Bergland about 30 minutes before the attack wearing the hat and carrying the sword tucked into the back of his jacket. Bergland was shouting homophobic slurs at him, Sweeney said.

“In my mind, I didn’t think it was a real sword until we came out later and police were on the scene and there was blood and the hat on the ground,” he said.

David Miles, who goes by the nickname “Sk8father” and started the skating rink at the former Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said he was inside during the confrontation but came outside to help the victim.

“The guy was cut, he was bleeding like you wouldn’t believe,” Miles said. “He was just gushing blood, so we got the first-aid kit from inside and tried to stop the bleeding.”

The violent encounter prompted Miles to consider setting up additional surveillance cameras at the rink.

“Even though he didn’t come into the church, he could have. This could have been worse,” Miles said. “This is the last thing you think is going to happen. I’m very, very, very concerned.”

Police have asked anyone with additional information about the attack to call the tip line at 415-575-4444.

Chronicle staff writers Ashley McBride and Megan Cassidy contributed to this report.

Matthias Gafni, Lauren Hernandez and Kevin Fagan are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: matthias.gafni@sfchronicle.com, lauren.hernandez@sfchronicle.com and kfagan@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: Twitter: @mgafni, @LaurenPorFavor, @KevinChron

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