SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A police shooting that stirred community outcry and street protests took a stunning turn Thursday when investigators said they now believe a 19-year-old Washington parolee being sought for questioning in a Seattle murder fatally shot himself in the neck.
Kenneth Harding died Saturday in what San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr previously described as a shootout with police in which Harding fired the first shot.
However, police Cmdr. Mike Biel said Thursday that preliminary autopsy results showed the caliber of the bullet that killed 19-year-old Kenneth Harding did not match the caliber used by police.
“We believe that the fatal wound on Mr. Harding’s body was self-inflicted,” Biel said.
John Sanchez, a criminalist at the San Francisco Crime Lab, said the .380-caliber bullet found in Harding’s head was not consistent with the.40-caliber guns issued to San Francisco police.
“The bullet could not have been fired from any department-issued firearm,” Sanchez said.
Medical personnel found an unfired .380-caliber bullet in Harding’s right jacket pocket, but the gun itself was not recovered, Biel said.
“We want to take this opportunity to reach out to the community in locating the correct weapon,” Biel said. “We believe the weapon that we are looking for is a .380-caliber handgun.”
A gun recovered by police late Saturday as part of the investigation was a .45-caliber pistol and could not have fired the fatal shot, police said.
The only other wound to Harding was a gunshot to his left leg, according to Chief Medical Examiner Amy Hart.
Authorities had not determined whether Harding shot himself on purpose or by accident, police said.
Harding was the main person of interest in last week’s South Seattle shooting death of 19-year-old Tanaya Gilbert, Seattle police said. A Seattle police spokesman said he did not have information on the caliber of the gun used in the shooting of Gilbert. No weapon was recovered in that case, Seattle police Detective Mark Jamieson said.
In April, Harding was released from a Washington state prison after he served 22 months for attempting to promote prostitution involving a 14-year-old girl in King County.
Harding had initially been stopped by police in a routine check for fare-beaters on the city’s light-rail train system, police said after Saturday’s shooting.
Police said Tuesday that gunshot residue on Harding’s right hand backed officers’ accounts that Harding had fired the first shot, as did audio of the shots captured by a gunshot-detection system used by San Francisco police.
On Tuesday, 43 people were arrested in a raucous rush-hour march to protest Harding’s death at the hands of what all believed at the time was police.
On Wednesday night, Suhr was shouted down at a town hall meeting in the city’s Bayview neighborhood a short distance from where the shooting took place.
Keevin O’Brien, a minister who co-organized Wednesday’s meeting, said he was still trying to process Thursday’s developments.
“Nonetheless, we have a dead young man that could’ve probably changed his life if the police had gotten to him sooner,” O’Brien said. “This should not have happened the way it did.”
O’Brien said the Bayview community is going to have a hard time with the findings.
“They’re not going to believe this,” O’Brien said. “They’re so broken and hurt by what they already saw. This is going to be hard to digest.”
Biel said Thursday that he also understands likely cynicism in the community.
“I understand how the community feels, however, our investigation is based on total fact. That’s what we have now,” Biel said.
O’Brien said he planned on going out in the community Thursday evening to “check its pulse.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)