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Town Hall Meeting Over SFPD Shooting Turns Chaotic

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San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr attempted to speak to a crowd at the Bayview Opera House on July 20, 2011 about the fatal shooting of Kenneth Harding on July 16, 2011. (CBS)

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr attempted to speak to a crowd at the Bayview Opera House on July 20, 2011 about the fatal shooting of Kenneth Harding on July 16, 2011. (CBS)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A town hall meeting held in San Francisco’s Bayview District Wednesday night to address a fatal police shooting there last weekend was stopped early after angry community members took over the microphone to yell at police and city officials.

The meeting was in response to the shooting of 19-year-old Seattle resident Kenneth Harding Jr., who allegedly ran from officers who had attempted to detain him Saturday for fare evasion at a San Francisco Municipal Railway stop at Third Street and Palou Avenue.

Police said Harding jumped off the Muni platform and ran through nearby Mendell Plaza where he fired at the officers. The officers returned fire, striking Harding, who died later that day.

KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:

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The aftermath of the shooting was captured by amateur video footage and posted online that showed Harding lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

Critics of the shooting have said the footage shows Harding did not receive medical treatment immediately after the shooting despite several officers being in the area, and some have even questioned whether he had a gun or if he fired it at the officers and claimed he was shot just for evading a $2 fare.

Police have said that one of the videos taken at the scene showed a passerby picking up what investigators believe was Harding’s gun and taking it from the area before police could establish the crime scene. A gun has since been found at a local parolee’s house, but police have not confirmed whether that was the gun involved in the shooting.

On Tuesday, police also said analysis of evidence collected from Harding’s right hand revealed gunshot residue, supporting statements from the officers and what police said are several eyewitnesses that he fired at them prior to being shot.

The shooting has prompted a series of protests, including a rally and march through San Francisco on Tuesday that resulted in 45 arrests, and a capacity crowd of about 300 people came out to Wednesday night’s town hall meeting.

The meeting was organized by local community and faith leaders and held at the Bayview Opera House, located less than a block from where the shooting occurred.

At the start of the meeting, police Chief Greg Suhr planned to lay out the results of the investigation into the shooting so far, but as he started to speak, he was shouted down by several people in the crowd.

Suhr then stepped away from the microphone as organizers allowed various community members to come up and air their grievances against the Police Department and other city officials.

A second microphone was eventually set up to allow Suhr to answer questions from a handful of people, many of whom accused the Police Department of unfair treatment, including enforcing fare evasion more often in the Bayview than in other parts of the city.

Suhr said, “I get it, I get how upset everybody is” and tried to restore order by saying “I don’t care if you disrespect me, but don’t disrespect everyone else that came here to talk.”

As the meeting devolved further, about an hour into it, Suhr and other police officials left the building, but said they would be returning for more discussion with the community at a later date.

“I’ll be back all the time,” he said.

Keevin O’Brien, one of the local ministers who organized Wednesday night’s event, said it may have just been held too soon.

“The community kind of knew from the way they were feeling on arrival that it would end up this way,” O’Brien said.

But Geoffrea Morris, a local community organizer who said she was out at the scene after Saturday’s shooting, said, “I liked that (Suhr) stayed … he tried to answer to the best of his abilities.”

Supervisor Malia Cohen, whose district contains the Bayview, said, “This is part of the democratic process, the ugly side of democracy,” but added, “We’re not going to give up.”

Police have said Harding was a person of interest in a shooting in Seattle last week that killed a 19-year-old pregnant woman and injured three other people.

He was on parole in Washington after serving part of a 22-month sentence for attempting to promote the prostitution of a 14-year-old girl, and was in violation of his parole by being in San Francisco, according to police.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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