Bear enclosure climber has history of mental illness

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The man arrested Saturday for barging into a grizzly bear enclosure at San Francisco Zoo has a history of mental health illness, according to family.

Twenty-one-year-old Kenneth Herron was rescued in a catatonic state from Grizzly Gulch Saturday after climbing into the enclosure just before the zoo closed for the day.

Authorities were still trying to determine how Herron apparently bypassed a fence, moat and electric wiring. Witnesses have given conflicting reports, police said. Surveillance footage that shows Herron entering the zoo around 4:45 p.m. and walking straight to Grizzly Gulch has been turned over to police, zoo spokeswoman Gwendolyn Tornatore said. There is no surveillance footage of Herron entering the enclosure, home to 6-year-old grizzly sisters Kachina and Kiona, she said.

Amateur footage shot by zoo visitors shows the aftermath of Herron’s intrusion into the bears’ nighttime quarters. A member of the zoo shooting team fired a single shotgun blast, scaring the bears into their den, before Herron was rescued.

Herron remained on a 72-hour psychiatric hold Monday at San Francisco General Hospital, Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew said.

Reached at his Sacramento home Monday, a man who identified himself as Herron’s brother said he received a call from his girlfriend Sunday. She told him to turn on the news. It was difficult to hear his brother’s name, he said.

Herron has a history of mental health issues, his brother said.

Herron’s public defender, Lateef Gray, entered a not guilty plea on his client’s behalf Monday morning in San Francisco Superior Court.

Herron faces two misdemeanors — a park code violation of disturbing wild or dangerous animals and criminal trespassing. Judge Charlene Kieselbach set bail for $10,000.

Gray indicated he would argue for reduced bail or for Herron to be released on his own recognizance at the next court appearance on Oct. 1, Buckelew said. Gray did not immediately return calls for comment.

Saturday’s arrest came after Herron was arrested in Sacramento last month for misdemeanor indecent exposure.

The young transient is also on five years’ probation for grabbing a police officer’s gun in Sacramento, a misdemeanor, as well as a misdemeanor warrant for criminal threats and brandishing a weapon. The warrant involves a July 2006 incident in which Herron threatened his family with a steak knife and a car radio, Union City police Cpl. Bob Kensic said Sunday.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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