UPDATE 7-29-11 @ 9:40 a.m.: San Francisco Police say they have located the pistol that killed Kenneth Harding. According to a press release issued yesterday by SFPD, an unnamed Bayview "neighborhood resident" led them to the weapon, a silver AMT .380 caliber semi-automatic. Ballistics tests reportedly "confirmed that this was the same gun that fired the fatal .380 caliber bullet" that struck Harding in the neck.
SFPD spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield declined to specify how or where police located the pistol. The Department had offered a $1,000 reward for the gun, but Dangerfield says the money has not yet been given out.
View a photo of the gun after the jump.
Original post, published Monday, July 25
Last Monday the story seemed simple: Kenneth Harding, a "person of interest" in the murder of a pregnant woman in Seattle, flees to San Francisco. When a pair of San Francisco police officers randomly try to question him about unpaid bus fare, he panics, runs away, and fires wildly with a handgun during the ensuing foot chase. Police shoot back, Harding gets hit, and dies on the sidewalk before a shocked and angry mob of onlookers.
But a week later, the plot has thickened considerably. San Francisco police now claim Harding shot himself--either intentionally or accidentally--but they can't turn up the gun that matches Harding's wounds. Meanwhile, amid public outcry over the killing, Harding's family has hired a high-powered Bay Area law firm to investigate. And, adding to the intrigue, Harding's brother is reportedly wanted for questioning in connection with another Seattle murder.
The missing handgun is the key piece of the puzzle in the Harding mystery. Police allege that a bystander made off with the weapon in the chaos that ensued after Harding was shot.
Last week police claimed they had recovered the pistol--a .45 caliber--with the help of an informant. The San Francisco medical examiner, however, determined that Harding was slain by a bullet from a .380 caliber pistol. Since San Francisco police carry .40 caliber sidearms, the presence of a .380 slug means Harding couldn't have been killed by the cops, and that the .45 caliber pistol was not likely the one scooped up from the crime scene. Hence the new theory from San Francisco Police: Harding shot himself.
But why didn't the SFPD officers who chased Harding down say from the beginning that his wounds were self-inflicted?
"There were ten shots fired in this whole incident," says Officer Albie Esparza, spokesman for San Francisco Police. "When you're in the moment and running after somebody and somebody is firing a weapon at you, you don't have the time and leisure to sit back and analyze the situation."
Esparza says police are now offering a $1,000 reward for a .380 pistol that matches the ballistics of the one that killed Harding.
Of course, conspiracy theorists allege that Harding was unarmed, that police shot him in the back unprovoked, and that the latest flip-flop is part of a cover-up. Harding's mother and uncle have retained the services of the law firm of John L. Burris, an attorney famous for winning a $10.9 million jury verdict in 2003 in connection to several cases misconduct by SFPD officers.
"At this point we're trying to gather the facts, given that there have been conflicting stories and evidence and theories as to what actually took place," says Adante Pointer, an associate at Burris' firm. "Right now we're hoping police and law enforcement agencies that have been involved, the coroners and medical examiner, will be transparent in their fact gathering so the family can evaluate what to do. We're trying to determine if this is a lawful or unlawful homicide."
Pointer disputed police assertions that amateur video footage recorded at the scene shows Harding holding a pistol. (Click here to view one piece of raw footage.)
"There's no gun," Pointer says. "I have not seen any video or photos of Mr. Harding holding any type of gun or firearm."
The San Francisco medical examiner, however, found traces of gunshot residue on Harding's hand, indicating that he either fired a weapon or was in the immediate proximity of a gun as it was going off. Esparza said the medical examiner is still in the process of analyzing whether Harding has similar gunshot residue on his head and neck.
The District Attorney is conducting an independent investigation into Harding's death, in addition to inquiries from the Office of Citizen Complaints, and the SFPD homicide and internal affairs divisions.
Elsewhere, Esparza says Seattle Police recently sent SFPD an all-points bulletin instructing them to be on the lookout for Harding's brother, who is wanted for questioning in connection to a recent murder in Seattle and who might be headed to the Bay Area. SPD spokesman Mark Jamieson would not confirm or deny that an APB for Harding's brother (whose name has not been released) has indeed been issued. (UPDATE: Ondrell Harding, Kenneth's older brother, was arrested Tuesday, July 23 in connection with the murder of 51-year-old Anthony Matthews.)
Jamieson says the investigation into the July 13 murder of 19-year-old Tanaya Gilbert--the case in which Harding was considered "a person of interest"--is still ongoing. Three others were wounded in that incident.
Harding, 19, served 22 months in a Washington state prison after he was convicted of assault and pimping a 14-year-old girl. He was released on parole in April.