OAKLAND (KCBS / AP) — Relatives of a Washington state parolee who San Francisco police believe fatally shot himself as he ran away from officers say they doubt the department’s account.
Kenneth Harding’s family said Monday they were troubled that police first said the 19-year-old was fatally shot by officers then days later said they now believed he killed himself with his own gun.
Authorities say officers tried to stop Harding while seeking farebeaters on a light-rail train July 16 in the city’s Bayview district.
Adante Pointer, an associate of Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, said he has not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit on behalf of Harding’s family but at this point wants to “help them get the answers they deserve.”
Pointer alleged that San Francisco police have given out “conflicting” versions of what happened to Harding in a confrontation that began around 4:45 p.m. on July 16, when police said he ran from officers who had attempted to detain him for fare evasion at a San Francisco Municipal Railway light-rail stop at Third Street and Palou Avenue.
Police initially said officers fatally shot Harding after he fired at them but they later said they believe he killed himself with his own gun. They said they do not know if it was an accident or Harding shot himself on purpose.
KCBS’ Chris Filippi Reports:
San Francisco chief medical examiner Dr. Amy Hart said that the bullet believed to have killed Harding that was removed from his head was a .380-caliber bullet, which is inconsistent with the service ammunition used by San Francisco police.
Police said last week that they also found an unused .380-caliber bullet in Harding’s right jacket pocket.
Pointer said, “The truth seems to be far at hand” and he wants San Francisco police to release records, witness statements and other documents so that Harding’s family “can have the closure they deserve.”
Pointer said witnesses he has interviewed claim that Harding “never fired a shot” at police and “was in full sprint” away from police when he was shot and killed.
No weapon was found by police at the scene, but amateur video footage captured in the shooting’s aftermath showed a passerby picking up what police investigators believe was Harding’s gun and taking it from the area before police could establish the crime scene.
A cellphone and several bullet casings were also apparently taken from the scene, police said.
Pointer also alleged that San Francisco police have engaged in “a concerted attack on the character and reputation” of Harding, who allegedly had a criminal record as a juvenile in Seattle and was considered a person of interest in a recent homicide in that city.
Police say Harding was on parole after being convicted of trying to force a 14-year-old into prostitution and was being sought for questioning in a Seattle murder.
Harding’s mother, Danika Chatman of Seattle, said her son was in San Francisco to visit family and embark on a rap music career. Chatman said she is both angry and frustrated.
“Kenneth was a God-fearing person. He loved the Lord,” she said. “He had been raised in church all of his life.”
Chatman said she does not know what happened when her son was killed.
She said he came to San Francisco recently because “he was going to meet his manager and get his career started” as a rap singer.
Chatman said Harding’s older brother has had a recording contract with a label in San Francisco for 10 years and wanted to help Harding get his career going.
Chatman said Harding planned to return to Seattle in the fall to attend a community college there.
“He was a very loving, caring and giving person and he loved his mother,” Chatman said.
Harding’s sister and several of his aunts and uncles joined Chatman at the news conference at the office that Pointe shares with Burris, who is out of town.
Several religious and community leaders from San Francisco and Oakland also participated, as did Cephus Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant III, the Hayward man who was fatally shot by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.
A San Francisco police spokesman said that investigators are still seeking witnesses to the shooting and the department will be as transparent as it can.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)