SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) A San Francisco man shot by police earlier this month in the South of Market neighborhood after allegedly stabbing one officer with a knife pleaded not guilty Wednesday in court to assault charges.
Randal Phillip Dunklin, 55, was hospitalized after being shot multiple times on the street outside a Department of Public Health behavioral health services building at 10th and Howard streets around 10:20 a.m. on Jan. 4. He was later booked into county jail.
Dunklin was in a wheelchair at the time he was shot and was allegedly vandalizing parking meters and slashing the tires of city vehicles. His gunshot injuries were described as non-life-threatening. The officer who had been cut in the shoulder was also hospitalized and later released.
Appearing in a wheelchair and orange jail clothes in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday morning, a white-haired Dunklin entered pleas of not guilty to two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, as well as counts of resisting police and vandalism.
The hearing before Judge Nancy Davis on a defense request to reduce Dunklin’s bail from $500,000 offered an opportunity for attorneys to spar on the facts of the case.
Danielle Harris of the public defender’s office, who asked for a “nominal bail” for her client, said Dunklin “has no financial resources” and had been at the health services building “seeking help” that morning, but was told to come back the next day.
Prosecutor Sanaz Nikaein, citing police reports, said Dunklin had been “camped out” at the facility around 8 a.m., and when an employee told him to leave, Dunklin became “belligerent” and being cursing, she said.
When asked to stop smoking in the building, Dunklin refused, and later began throwing blocks of concrete at the building and an employee, Nikaein said.
When police arrived, minutes after Dunklin allegedly began attacking the parking meters and slashing tires outside the office, officers told him to drop the knife, but he refused, according to Nikaein.
Harris said the first officer on the scene radioed in to dispatch, “The guy is goofy,” and asked for a non-lethal weapon to be sent.
Dunklin was initially pepper-sprayed in the face and then allegedly cut the officer.
Nikaein said Dunklin was “wheeling” toward the officer with the knife in his hand, then rose from the wheelchair and lunged at the officer, cutting him. The officer needed 21 stitches and was advised by doctors that there was the potential for nerve damage, she added.
By then, more officers had arrived, and a bystander began recording the incident on a camera phone. The video has been reviewed by police and by attorneys in the case.
Harris said Wednesday the video showed her client “with his hands up in the air, with multiple police officers pointing guns at him.”
The non-lethal, shotgun-fired bean bag weapon was then deployed.
Police said both weapons had no effect on Dunklin.
The attorneys differed on what happened next. Police have said that two male officers, the 27-year-old officer who had been stabbed and a 40-year-old officer, opened fire with their handguns.
Both officers, who have been with the department since 2007 and 1997, respectively, have been placed on standard administrative leave during an investigation.
According to Harris, Dunklin threw his knife to his side before being shot.
Nikaein asserted that Dunklin threw the knife at police and it landed at one officer’s foot.
Describing Dunklin as “a risk to the community” who “was wheeling in and out of traffic with a knife,” Nikaein asked the judge to raise bail to $1 million.
“I believe more people could have been hurt because of the defendant’s actions,” she said.
Davis, however, set bail at $340,000, which was closer to the statutory amount for the charges. Dunklin remains in custody and is due back in court Feb. 4 for a hearing on the status of evidence released to the defense.
Outside court, Harris said she would continue to review both the bystander video and police reports, as well as the statements of former police Chief George Gascon – now the district attorney – about the case.
Gascon had as chief addressed media about the shooting, as he did all officer-involved shootings. Now, as district attorney, his office is tasked with not only independently prosecuting Dunklin, but also conducting an independent investigation of the officers who fired their handguns.
“I do have serious concerns about that,” Harris said. She said Gascon’s initial statements after the incident indicated he felt the officers had acted properly.
“My concern is, when he’s already gone on record…that I’m not sure that he’s the right person to be conducting an independent investigation,” Harris said. She added that she was looking into whether she will file a motion asking for the district attorney’s office to be recused from prosecuting Dunklin.
Gascon was asked at a separate event Wednesday about whether the district attorney’s office has a conflict in such cases.
“We’ve done the legal research and talked to the attorney general’s office, and based on the assessment of our own research as well as the word from the attorney general’s office…there’s not a conflict of interest,” Gascon responded.
“At this point we plan to prosecute the (Dunklin) case,” he said.
Harris declined to discuss the specifics of her client’s background, but said that he had lived in San Francisco for a number of years, and had only a minor prior conviction for theft.
“He’s a down-and-out character, and very much in need of help,” Harris said.
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