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Cleaver May Have Been Beaten, Robbed, Police Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver, who remains in serious condition in a hospital here, may have suffered his serious brain injury during a robbery and assault, authorities said Thursday.

Berkeley police, who arrested the critically acclaimed author on drug charges Tuesday, said his wallet, watch, keys and 1977 Chevrolet pickup are missing.

“We have been investigating the suspicious circumstances of this case, and we believe one possibility is that he was the victim of a crime,” Lt. Michel de Latour said.

Best known for his book “Soul on Ice,” Cleaver, 58, was taken to the hospital early Tuesday after he fell ill while being booked on suspicion of public intoxication and possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

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He underwent five hours of emergency surgery at Alta Bates Medical Center. He regained consciousness on Thursday, but doctors say it is still too early to make a prognosis.

A CAT scan revealed that Cleaver had a subdural hematoma, a type of brain hemorrhage sometimes suffered by boxers. A hospital spokeswoman said such injuries can only be caused by some sort of recent trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the head.

Police said Cleaver suffered no such trauma during his arrest shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday. De Latour said two officers responding to a report of a prowler found a dazed Cleaver in the back yard of an apartment, tapping on a window.

“There was no fighting, no resisting, no confrontation and no contact of any kind except to handcuff him,” De Latour said. Cleaver was disoriented, spoke slowly and had difficulty standing, but he did not complain of head pain or have any visible wounds, he said.

Thirty minutes later, Cleaver began vomiting in a detoxification cell. He said he was on medication for diabetes, and police, believing that he might be having a diabetic reaction, called paramedics.

De Latour said the department’s investigation would continue.

An ex-convict and one-time presidential candidate, Cleaver joined the Black Panthers in 1967.

In recent years, he has become a Republican and championed landlords’ rights in Berkeley.

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