SAN FRANCISCO – 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 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.
The only other wound to Harding was a gunshot to his left leg, according to Chief Medical Examiner Amy Hart.
Investigators had not determined whether Harding shot himself on purpose or by accident, police said.
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 the shooting. Suhr 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 evening, 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 community meeting in the city's Bayview neighborhood a short distance from where the shooting took place.
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. Authorities say he was also a person of interest in last week's shooting death of Tanaya Gilbert, 19, in South Seattle. Family members said Gilbert was several weeks pregnant. Three other people were also injured in that shooting.
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