When a 19-year-old black man was shot to death in a firefight after allegedly firing at two police officers July 16, somebody collected much of the available evidence — and it wasn’t a cop.
Video shows a young man in a gray striped hooded sweatshirt picking up an item that police call the gun of Kenneth Harding Jr. Police say Harding’s cellphone and several shell casings also disappeared.
The missing evidence further complicates a shooting that has touched a raw nerve in the community. Although Harding’s death highlights the acute distrust that some Bayview residents have for police, cops said bystanders made it harder for them to demonstrate that their actions in this case were justified.
“It makes an investigation challenging,” police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield said. “In this particular instance, you have alleged video that shows people picking up evidence from the scene.”
The video showed officers trying to hold a group of onlookers at bay. Yet even as one or more people were removing evidence, bystanders yelled, “Where’s the gun?” Other witnesses complained that officers did little to help the dying Harding.
“It’s clear that people don’t trust that we’re doing what we say we’re doing,” Dangerfield said. “But it’s also clear that the facts of this case are showing that the suspect shot at police officers, and they are trained to respond to threats.”
Police say officer and witness accounts, along with a gunshot-detection system, prove Harding shot first.
Late last week, police unveiled evidence they say shows that Harding fatally shot himself. Police Chief Greg Suhr said Friday that Harding may have done so accidentally after a shot, probably fired by police, hit him in the leg.
While police note that the actions of a few do not represent the greater Bayview community, distrust of cops remains an issue there.
“People don’t believe nothing the police say — nothing,” said Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, which is often harshly critical of police. “What are people supposed to believe when you’ve got a history of harassing people?”
That sentiment was evident at a Bayview meeting last week when audience members shouted down Suhr, a former district captain, and he abandoned a presentation on the shooting.
“It turned out to be a venting session,” said Joe Marshall, a police commissioner who works with Bayview youth. “It wasn’t even necessarily about the shooting, it was about people being upset about conditions that they feel exist in the community.”
Police say they know who took Harding’s gun and are looking for him.
Seattle police: Brother may be in The City
Seattle police warned their San Francisco peers Saturday that the brother of Kenneth Harding Jr., the 19-year-old Seattle man who died in a Bayview police shootout July 16, could be on his way to The City after a recent homicide.
San Francisco police received an all-points bulletin about Harding’s brother Saturday afternoon, but a Seattle police spokesman on Sunday refused to confirm any details about the bulletin, including the brother’s name.
“I can tell you that early [Saturday] morning, we had a homicide in South Seattle,” Detective Mark Jamieson said. “Detectives are investigating that and we’re following up on leads.”
Seattle police reported a 50-year-old man was attacked at 3 a.m. Saturday in the 5100 block of South Garden Street. The man was “struck in the head by a known suspect” and died at the scene, police said.
Jamieson would not comment further on the case, other than to say it was an active and ongoing investigation.
Harding died near Third Street and Oakdale Avenue after what San Francisco police now say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police said Harding was fleeing officers detaining him for evading a Muni fare, and when he shot first, officers returned fire. Chief Greg Suhr has speculated that Harding may have accidentally shot himself after being shot in the leg by police.
Harding had been on parole in Washington state for attempting to pimp a 14-year-old girl, and was also considered a person of interest in a quadruple shooting in South Seattle.
Police have not said what Harding was believed to have been doing in San Francisco.
— Ari Burack
2011 officer-involved shootings in San Francisco
Jan. 4: SFPD officers wound a man in a wheelchair, Randal Dunklin, 55, at 10th and Howard streets after reports he was refusing to leave a local health clinic and was vandalizing nearby vehicles. Police said Dunklin refused to cooperate and stabbed an officer in the arm before he was shot.
June 7: SFPD officers fatally shoot Joshua Smith, 25, a Southern California bank robbery suspect, on Buena Vista Avenue between Haight Street and Duboce Avenue. Police said Smith drove a stolen vehicle at officers who were trying to detain him.
June 29: SFPD officers wound Roselyndo Sicat, 38, in a shooting at Gough and Ellis streets. Police said Sicat fired at officers who had been trying to detain him on a $75,000 warrant for vandalism and resisting arrest.
July 3: BART police fatally shoot Charles Hill, 45, on the Civic Center station platform. Police said an apparently drunken Hill came at them armed with a bottle and knives.
July 16: SFPD officers shoot Kenneth Wade Harding Jr., 19, of Seattle at Third Street and Oakdale Avenue in the Bayview district. Police said Harding fired at them while fleeing a Muni fare inspection.