Fugitive to surrender in decades-old case

From the San Francisco Chronicle

A 67-year-old man accused in a pair of long-ago attacks on police officers, including the 1971 slaying of a San Francisco sergeant, is poised to turn himself in this week after more than four decades in hiding, his attorney said Tuesday.

Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth – an artifact of a turbulent era and an alleged former warrior for a violent offshoot of the Black Panthers – plans to plead guilty to firing on South San Francisco officers who tried to arrest him for credit card fraud at a discount store in 1968, said his attorney, Paul Harris.

No longer a young activist and community organizer, Bridgeforth now has a wife, two grown sons, a master’s degree and a pair of arthritic hips, Harris said. Last week, Bridgeforth resigned from a job teaching and counseling students at an undisclosed college.

While prepared to accept punishment, Harris said, Bridgeforth will fight more serious charges awaiting him in San Francisco.

There, he was one of eight men charged in 2007 with murdering police Sgt. John Young at Ingleside Station on Aug. 29, 1971. Young was killed when at least three men burst in, with one firing a shotgun through an opening in a bulletproof glass window.

The men, along with a ninth alleged Black Liberation Army veteran, were also charged with conspiring to kill officers over the course of several years.

Case dissolved

Bridgeforth, the alleged getaway driver, remains the subject of a murder warrant, but the landscape of the case has changed radically since the charges were filed.

State prosecutors, who took over the case from the city, never took it to trial, dismissing charges against six men while securing no-contest pleas on reduced charges from two others who were already serving life prison terms for other crimes. The last of the charges against those defendants were dropped in August.

Harris said Bridgeforth was never in the Black Liberation Army and never took part in the killing of peace officers, but was haunted by regret over the earlier South San Francisco incident.

Harris said he and his co-counsel, Jason Cueva, will surrender their client at 8:45 a.m. Thursday at San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City.

“He has two sons, and he wants them to be the kind of man he is now, not the kind of man who he was that one day in November 1968,” said Harris, who once helped defend Black Panthers co-founder Huey Newton.

Bridgeforth was not feeling the breath of law enforcement on his neck, according to his attorney. “He did not decide to surrender because there was any breach in his security,” Harris said. “In fact, most people thought he was dead.”

Many investigators who have pursued Bridgeforth for years declined to comment Tuesday, while saying they had no independent confirmation he would surrender.

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Kamala Harris, declined to comment on the San Francisco case.

Karen Guidotti, the chief deputy district attorney in San Mateo County, said prosecutors are putting together records from archives in preparation for Bridgeforth’s potential appearance.

“We’ll wait and see, won’t we,” Guidotti said. “It will be interesting to find out what Mr. Bridgeforth has been up to since 1969, and what possible motive he may have to surrender himself at this particular time.”

Stolen credit cards

Defense attorney Harris said that in the South San Francisco incident, Bridgeforth and two other men – both of whom were later charged in the San Francisco police killing – were confronted after trying to use stolen credit cards at a White Front discount store on El Camino Real.

When a police car pulled up and blocked the getaway car, Harris said, Bridgeforth – who was 24 – jumped out of the backseat and opened fire. He struck the squad car but not the officers, who returned fire and wounded Bridgeforth in the foot before arresting him.

Guidotti said records show that Bridgeforth pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon on March 17, 1969, but jumped bail and did not show up for sentencing less than a month later.

He was briefly detained in San Francisco in 1971, in a car with a gun, but was released before police realized he was a wanted man.

How Bridgeforth spent his years as a fugitive remained a mystery Tuesday. Harris gave a few details, saying his client initially spent a year hiding in Africa, eventually married, raised two sons, worked as a janitor before earning a master’s degree, and finally landed the college job.

Echoing an argument that was made by many of the defense lawyers in the San Francisco case, Harris said, “He’s lived an exemplary life.”

E-mail Demian Bulwa at dbulwa@sfchronicle.com. Demian Bulwa is a Chronicle staff writer. Laura Rena Murray is a correspondent.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/08/BA8D1LS4E7.DTL#ixzz1dXBQFeeX

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