U.S. District Court

Tenderloin gunman bids for no jail time in U.S. District Court

An on-duty Urban Alchemy employee who fired eight shots down a Tenderloin street “filled with pedestrians and passing cars” is asking a federal judge for no jail time.

Darnell Houston pled guilty to one count of a federal indictment stemming from his role in the April 2021 gunfight that left passersby diving for cover. Prosecutors are requesting the judge impose an 18 month sentence. He will appear on June 1 before U.S. District Judge William Orrick for sentencing.

Houston – who has three prior felony convictions for firearms offenses – was working outside the Larkin Street Youth Center at 129 Hyde Street on April 25, 2021.

Darnell Houston firing at three men on April 25, 2021

An altercation took place between him and three unknown males at around 5:25pm. One of the group drew a gun and fired at Houston’s feet before walking away.

Houston ran to his nearby car, a dark grey Chevrolet Camara, where he retrieved a firearm, pusued the men and then let loose a hail of gunfire in their direction.

In response two of the other males appeared to draw weapons of their own and footage, say prosecutors, shows a shot being fired in return.

Pedestrians, including a person using a personal mobility scooter, were in Houston’s line of fire.

One of Houston’s targets running away

Less than an hour before the incident, court records show, Houston engaged in a physical altercation with a man who he saw arguing with a woman. This, according to his employer, “escalated the situation into a physical altercation violating company policy.”

Houston was arrested by SFPD and ATF Agents on May 18 2021 and released from federal custody on June 28 2021 on an unsecured $25,000 bond by order of U.S. Magistrate Judge Alex Tse.

A search of his residence uncovered a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun and a Polymer 80 9mm firearm plus ammunition. Houston claimed he had found the weapons in Oakland a few months previously.

One of the guns found at Houston’s residence

In a sentencing memorandum submitted to the court Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tartakovsky invites it to impose an 18 month prison sentence.

Tartakovsky accepts that Houston was shot at and notes that he told arresting officers that he acted in self-defense. He points out, however, that he shot at men who were by that point nearly half a block away and the confrontation had at that stage ended.

He describes the “breathtaking recklessness” of Houston’s conduct – discharging multiple rounds “at distant targets on a crowded street on a weekday afternoon”.

A vehicle with bullet damage

Assistant Federal Public Defender David Rizk counters that his client was “shocked and rightly feared for his life”. His client had no idea who the men were.

Since the incident, says Rizk, Houston “has demonstrated to the court that he is a valuable and productive member of the community” through his work, family and community activities.

“He has no history of violence, is not a gang member and has never been to prison or served more than 60 days in his life,” Rizk adds. The defense asks the court for three years of supervised release.

Houston benefits from a number of testimonials submitted on his behalf from employers, family and friends. One, from Bayron Wilson, chief of operations for Urban Alchemy, noted that “[h]e is particularly strong in the skills of de-escalation, customer service, conflict resolution, and trauma-informed care.”

Commentary: at first glance there may be an incongruity between the criminal history of Mr Houston, outlined by the prosecution, of three firearm related felony convictions and the fact that, per the defense, he has not served more than an 60 days in his life.

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