News crews recall armed robbery while covering fatal shooting of SF woman

A San Francisco police officer sits on his patrol motorcycle near KGO news cameraman Steve Stifter on Thursday morning at Pier 14 on The Embarcadero, hours after a gunman pistol whipped one newscaster and robbed several others of their cameras. Stifter was present for the incident, but was not injured. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Two television news crews were robbed a gunpoint early Thursday morning along The Embarcadero while they readied for live shots at a homicide scene, according to witnesses.

Around 6 a.m. Thursday, as four separate television crews were getting ready to report on the Wednesday night killing of 32-year-old San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle, an armed man walked up and pointed a gun at two separate news crews and then stole their cameras.

At least one of the robberies, at the foot on Pier 14, happened on air, said Alan Waples, a cameraman and photojournalist for NBC Bay Area.

Waples was the first of two cameramen to be held up when a pistol muzzle was stuck to the back of his head as he was adjusting the lights on his reporter, Waples told the S.F. Examiner. At the time, his reporter was on air, but the station cut the feed in the middle of the robbery.

“I had a gun to my head,” Waples said. His reporter, Kris Sanchez, told the man with the gun, “’Don’t hurt him, don’t shoot him,’” said Waples. “I said, ‘Don’t shoot. Take the camera.'”

The assailant then forced Waples to the ground and pistol whipped him across the side of his head and then tore wires from the camera and fled to a waiting car, said Waples. Once the camera was jammed into the car, the suspect returned and robbed the KTVU Channel 2 team of its cameras.

Police, who did not respond to requests for comment on the incident, were at the scene within minutes, said Waples.

Another cameraman on the scene, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident, said he and the other news crews had been at Pier 14 for several hours before the robberies. The robbery, he said, happened in about the safest place he can imagine: broad daylight along The Embarcadero with joggers running past.

“That’s pretty ballsy for someone to roll up and start robbing people like that,” the cameraman said.

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