The story of the officer-involved shooting that roiled the Bayview in recent weeks has only grown more complicated with each new fact released.
Although police Chief Greg Suhr has emphasized transparency during his new administration, the department’s incremental release of information may actually have stoked anger over the incident.
Before becoming chief, the former Bayview police captain made strides building better relations between cops and residents of the predominately black neighborhood. But when at least 10 shots rang out on the afternoon of July 16, that relationship was put to the test.
After 19-year-old Kenneth Harding Jr. was taken off a Muni train for apparently failing to pay, he ran from two officers and allegedly fired a shot back at them. Officers then shot and killed him, according to the narrative provided by police just hours later.
In the ensuing days, more information was released about Harding, who had been convicted of pimping a 14-year-old Seattle girl, convicted of robbery and was a person of interest in a quadruple shooting in Seattle that killed a 19-year-old woman.
But when the Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that the bullet found in Harding’s head was of a different caliber than those used by cops and also matched a bullet in Harding’s pocket, police concluded that Harding died from shooting himself and the shots fired by officers only struck him in the leg.
Police now say Harding fired “at least two” of the 10 shots recorded by a neighborhood gunshot-detection system.
Yet police officials declined to reveal how many shots were fired by the two officers’ weapons — basic information for the department to gather.
Sgt. Mike Andraychak said audio experts are still reviewing the recording, but police say the first shot — which isn’t as loud as the others — was fired at officers by Harding. The timing of Harding’s other shot or shots remains under investigation, he said.
Another source of confusion is a video that shows people crowding around Harding as he lay bleeding on the ground. Fifteen seconds into the video clearly shows a gun on the sidewalk beyond where Harding fell. Then, about a minute later, a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt picks up an object, which is not clearly identified as a gun, from the sidewalk.
Suhr has identified the object as Harding’s gun, but some critics claim it is not and that there was never a gun.
And while police originally said they secured Harding’s gun through information from a witness, that weapon did not match the caliber of the bullet found in Harding’s head. Police are still offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to recovery of Harding’s weapon.
Harding family attorney Adante Pointer said Monday he’s skeptical the fatal wound was self-inflicted. But even he couldn’t rule out that the shooting might have been justified.
“At this stage, we’re on a mission for the truth,” Pointer said.
Suhr could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
How the facts emerged in fatal officer-involved shooting
July 16: Police on the scene of an officer-involved shooting in the Bayview said officers shot and killed a man after he first fired a shot at them. Some witnesses say they saw the man fire at the officers, while others denied he had a gun.
July 17: Police reveal that the still-unidentified man was a convicted pimp and a person of interest in a South Seattle quadruple shooting and murder. Suhr said the gun was recovered by way of community information. YouTube videos from the scene get public notice.
July 18: The dead man is identified as Kenneth Harding Jr., 19, of Seattle. Police release ShotSpotter info suggesting that Harding fired the first of 10 shots captured by the system.
July 19: Police report gunshot residue was found on Harding’s hand.
July 20: Attempting dialogue with angry Bayview community members, Police Chief Greg Suhr is booed off the stage and leaves the talk.
July 21: Cmdr. Mike Biel announces, based on a Medical Examiner’s Office finding, that a bullet wound in Harding’s neck and head was self-inflicted because police use guns with a different caliber bullet. Police say the gun that was previously identified as Harding’s does not match the caliber of bullets found in Harding’s head and in his shirt pocket.
July 25: Harding’s family holds a news conference with an Oakland lawyer asking police to release more information on the shooting. Attorney Adante Pointer says he’s skeptical that Harding died of a self-inflicted wound, but doesn’t rule out that the shooting was justified.
Sources: Police Department, Medical Examiner’s Office