A San Francisco police officer narrowly missed a lethal gunshot wound to the head on Friday night, and is now hospitalized with part of his body paralyzed, according to the city's interim police chief.
"It was a lot more than" just a minor graze wound, Toney Chaplin said at a news conference on Saturday. "One centimeter down and this may have been a fatality."
The officer, who was shot by a still unidentified suspect who is in custody, has undergone surgery to remove bullet fragments from his brain, Chaplin said. He is also suffering from "partial paralysis on the side of his body from the shot to the head," he said.
Sources close to the investigation told NBC Bay Area that the officer's name is Kevin Downs, but Chaplin declined to identify the officer.
Chaplin shared, however, that the officer has been part of the police department for two years and was assigned to the Taraval District station.
Downs appears to be a Marin County resident who co-founded a nonprofit called Ranchin’ Vets that helps veterans find work in the agricultural industry. Chaplin said only that the officer is a "good, strong" community member and a "fantastic" policeman.
Those who know the officer say that he and his family promote a legacy of serving others.
"His oldest brother served three tours of duty in the military," Ben Matranga, a family friend, said. "When Kevin came back, he worked with a non-profit that helped veterans with PTSD so very long commitment to public safety."
Officers responded to a report of a person behaving erratically and threatening people at Lakeshore Plaza around 8:15 p.m., officer Carlos Manfredi said.
When they approached him, however, the suspect, who police did not know was armed, turned around and fired several times at the officers. A bullet hit Downs in the head, taking him down near Sloat Boulevard and Everglade Drive, Manfredi said.
Downs' partner began to run in the suspect's direction, only to realize that his colleague had been struck and was lying on the ground. He ran back to help and request backup for Downs, who was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital.
Witnesses recalled hearing three shots and said the officer appeared alert as emergency responders treated him. Manfredi said Downs is "very, very lucky" to be conscious and recovering with his family.
"Half an inch closer and we would be telling a different story right now," he said.
Meanwhile, police called for citywide assistance and launched a massive manhunt to find and apprehend the suspect, who had taken cover in Sigmund Stern Grove.
San Francisco police and California Highway Patrol officers closed the park, where, Chaplin said, a wedding was underway and guests had to be safeguarded. Officers set up a perimeter when the suspect popped out of bushes and fled on foot. Officers chased and shot at him, said Manfredi, who could not confirm how many rounds had been fired.
The suspect fell onto the ground but continued to move. His handgun was "present" and being held "close to his chest," Manfredi said.
Police tweeted at about 9:30 p.m. that they "had the suspect contained" and had used a flash bang in an attempt to detain him. They followed that with a tweet around 9:45 p.m. saying the suspect had been taken into custody by a SWAT team.
The man refused all commands to give up his weapon and surrender peacefully so police officers were forced to use a distraction tactic to "get close to the suspect and make the arrest and gain compliance," according to Manfredi.
The suspect, who was detained near 28th Avenue and Vicente Street, was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital, which was briefly placed on lock down Friday night.
Officers had "no clue" that the man was holding a firearm, Chaplin said, but demonstrated "21st century policing at its best."
"They did everything they could to make sure that at least the subject had a fighting chance," he said.
Chaplin said the suspect is in critical condition, and has not yet been formally charged. The department is investigating the encounter and interviewing involved officers. The chief also did not comment on the suspect's criminal history.
The police department will host a town hall meeting next week at which time more details about the shooting will be shared, he said.
According to Chaplin, the suspect's family had "zero to do with this," so he said he is trying to be both transparent and respectful of families on both sides.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who went to the hospital Friday night to thank Downs for his service, released a statement on Saturday.
"Last night I received one of those calls that as a mayor you never want to receive," he said. "The phone call that tells you a police officer has been shot in the line of duty."
Lee said Downs was wounded while chasing an armed man who was a danger to the community, acknowledging the perils police officers encounter daily.
"Each day, the members of San Francisco Police Department face uncertainty and danger with the purpose of protecting our city and its residents," he added.
In the hours after the shooting, police departments, including those in Fremont and Redwood City, tweeted out prayers and support for the San Francisco Police Department.
It has been nearly 10 years since a San Francisco police officer was shot in the line of duty. In Dec. 2006, officer Brian Tuvera was gunned down while trying to arrest a wanted escapee in the Sunset District. The 28-year-old spent just over four years on the force before his death.