After receiving a San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) press release issued July 21 stating that the man who died July 16 following an officer-involved shooting in the Bayview had been killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, I phoned the city's Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Amy Hart.
I asked Hart to walk me through how the conclusion that the gunshot wound was self-inflicted had been reached. But Hart responded that the Medical Examiner has not reached any conclusion so far about the cause of Harding's death.
"That's not a component of the press release that we issued," Hart said. "Maybe it's a question that would be best addressed to the San Francisco Police Department, probably their homicide division. For us, the cause and manner of death are pending. So, we are going to complete our investigation before we discuss the manner of death. The question that you're asking is something that came from the police press release, so you have to ask them the nature of why they said that."
I called the SFPD and left a message, and I'll be sure to provide an update once they call back.
The SFPD release stated that the Medical Examiner had detected two gunshot wounds in the body of Kenneth Wade Harding, Jr., the 19-year-old from Washington state who died after being shot on a crowded sidewalk in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood. One gunshot wound entered and exited Harding’s left leg, the statement said. A second gunshot wound entered the right side of Harding’s neck, and the bullet remained in his head. The round that was lodged in his head was of .380 caliber, police said, so it could not have come from a .40 caliber SFPD-issued firearm.
A .380 caliber round was discovered in the pocket of the jacket Harding was wearing, the press release added. "Based upon evidence known at this time including: officer and witness statements that Harding shot at the police officers, Shot Spotter data, video tape evidence that depicts a firearm at the scene that was subsequently taken and the location of gunshot residue on Harding’s right hand, it appears that Mr. Harding’s head wound was self inflicted," the press release stated.
The Medical Examiner's office hasn't issued a death certificate yet, Hart said, and it generally takes several weeks to determine the cause of death.
I asked Hart if the Medical Examiner's office had any way to determine which bullet had entered Harding's body first.
"I wouldn't say there's a good way, except for eyewitness accounts," she responded, adding that the Medical Examiner's Office doesn't have information to determine which bullet entered the body first.
While the Medical Examiner determined that the .380 caliber bullet entered through the right side of the neck, it is the ballistics section of SFPD's crime lab that determines the caliber of the rounds, Hart explained.
When I asked Hart what process the Medical Examiner's office would follow to determine the cause of death, she said, "It's a completion of our investigation that will need to happen here at the Medical Examiner's office. We're going to make a final determination, and what goes into an investigation depends on a case, there's no set thing that has to happen." Eventually, she said, the various components of the investigation, such as witness accounts, the ballistics analysis, and the examination of the body will be merged.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee offered brief comments to the media today in response to the most recent findings released by the SFPD. The mayor attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Bayview Branch Library at Third and Revere streets, which is expected to open in December of 2012. Here's a video of Lee's response to the latest evidence released by SFPD:
Video by Rebecca Bowe
Lee was joined by District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen as well as Sen. Mark Leno, Sen. Leland Yee, Sup. Scott Weiner, newly installed Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin, City Librarian Luis Herrera, and other prominent San Franciscans. City officials emphasized the positive at the press conference, stressing that the new library would be a center for learning that could serve the youth of the Bayview and offered hope for the future of a neighborhood in transition. "It's not all doom and gloom here," Cohen told reporters.
I asked Cohen if she had a comment about the police deparment's latest findings, but she declined to say anything about it.
At this point, there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Harding's death. So far, the gun that discharged the .380 caliber bullet into Harding's head has not been recovered by police. Police believe an unidentified man in a hooded sweatshirt who can be seen in a YouTube video picking up a silvery object off the sidewalk removed Harding's weapon from the scene, and they say they are searching for the man and the gun. But if the object shown in the video is a gun, and it was Harding's gun, it's still not clear how it wound up some 10 yards away from the body after he shot himself.