Questions remain as police drop charges

Assault charges against a suspect in the Halloween Castro shooting that left 10 people injured have been temporarily dropped, according to police officials. However, the suspect is in custody on charges of possessing a stolen weapon.

Ralph Hampton, 23, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to four felony counts of possessing a stolen weapon during the annual Castro Halloween event. His lawyer told the judge that his client’s charges “stem out of the Castro incident but this is not part of the shooting.”

Police Department spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens said the nine assault with a deadly weapons charges were dropped “for the time being” but they could be reinstated “pending further investigation.”

In the waning minutes of The City’s annual Halloween celebration in the Castro, which draws more than 200,000 people and has been marred with violence in recent years, gunfire broke out in the 2200 block of Castro Street. Nine people were shot and one person was hurt in the melee. The incident began as an exchange of heated words between two groups of young adults — about 15 in each group — and quickly escalated into physical violence and the shooting. Although parts of the verbal altercation were reportedly caught on videotape and on digital gadgets, no witnesses have come forward to identify the shooter. Police have consistently denied that the incident was gang-related and said Tuesday that Hampton had no known gang affiliations. Gang violence in San Francisco has escalated in recent years.

The City stepped up security measures this year with more than 600 public safety officers, cut back on entertainment and ended the celebration at 11 p.m., three hours earlier than usual.

How the San Francisco resident got a revolver past security into the cordoned-off celebration is still under investigation, according to Gittens. Partygoers were searched for dangerous items and patted down before being allowed past police barricades into the celebration.

Gittens said the Police Department has the gun in possession and that there were casings found on the scene but an investigation is continuing to determine whether the bullets matched Hampton’s gun.

“It is unknown if he shot his gun,” he said. “That will all come out.”

Debbie Mesloh, of the District Attorney’s Office, said her office is still looking for witnesses who may have seen the shooter.

“We are hopeful that witnesses will come forward with testimony that will allow us to move forward,” she said, adding that she could not comment on whether Hampton was a “person of interest” in the shooting.

Hampton was arrested Nov. 9 in San Francisco, according to Gittens. Mesloh said she could not comment on whether he had any prior arrests. The suspect returns to court this morning.

sfarooq@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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