In a shocking announcement Thursday, San Francisco officials said they now believe that the young black man killed Saturday during a gun battle with police fatally shot himself.
Cmdr. Mike Biel said police are investigating whether or not 19-year-old Kenneth Harding Jr. intended to kill himself. But officials provided no specific narrative for how Harding — who police have said fired at two officers from under his arm while running — could have shot himself in the head.
“We believe that the fatal wound on Mr. Harding’s body was self-inflicted,” Biel said at a news conference at the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Amy Hart said her office’s preliminary autopsy suggests Harding was killed by a .380-caliber bullet that entered his neck on the right side and lodged in his head. Another live .380-caliber bullet was found in Harding’s right jacket pocket, Biel said.
Police crime lab firearms supervisor John Sanchez noted that San Francisco police do not use such bullets.
“I can say that the bullet is a .380, 9 mm caliber, and is not consistent with department-issued duty ammunition,” said Sanchez, who reviewed the lab’s analysis of the bullet recovered from Harding’s head.
“Furthermore, the bullet could not have been fired from any department-issued firearm.”
Biel said that since 1995, San Francisco police officers have been issued .40-caliber handguns that only fire
Hart said Harding suffered a second gunshot wound that entered and exited his left leg. She said it was unclear from the wound what caliber that bullet was. Police have not recovered that slug, she said.
Biel said the .45-caliber handgun recovered at a Bayview home after Harding’s shooting is now not believed to have belonged to Harding. The department is now offering a $1,000 reward for the recovery of Harding’s .380-caliber gun, he added.
Videos posted online by eyewitnesses have shown a dying Harding in a pool of blood, surrounded by police trying to ward off visibly upset onlookers. One video showed a man with a gray hoodie appear to pick up a handgun several feet in front of Harding’s body.
Biel said Thursday that from its appearance, it was “possible” that weapon was a .380-caliber handgun.
“We are now trying to locate that man with the gray hoodie,” he said.
This new information will likely anger those Bayview residents who have accused police of lying about the shooting.
Biel seemed aware of that, even as he provided new facts that contributed to the complexity of the incident.
“I understand how the community feels,” Biel said. “However, our investigation is based on total fact.”
He said the new information had just come to police Wednesday afternoon and police confirmed it Thursday afternoon. Biel was speaking for the department in place of police Chief Greg Suhr, whom he said was unable to attend.
Many facts, few explanations
- Evidence outlined by police so far paints a confusing picture of what happened Saturday in the Bayview.
- Officers’ statements said they saw and heard a shot fired directly at them.
- Witnesses said they saw Kenneth Harding Jr. fire at the officers.
- Gunshot residue was found on Harding’s right hand.
- ShotSpotter data indicated 10 shots total fired at the scene from three shooters.
- Video by eyewitnesses was posted on YouTube.
- Witness statements said someone in the crowd picked up a gun, cellphone and shell casings at the scene.
- Bullet retrieved from Harding’s brain was a different caliber than the ones used by San Francisco police.
Source: Cmdr. Mike Biel, Police Department