A man accused of shooting at a South San Francisco police officer in 1968 pleaded no contest to the crime in San Mateo County Superior Court this morning, after more than four decades on the lam. Ronald Bridgeforth, 67, also pleaded no contest to assault on a police officer with a firearm shortly after the crime occurred, but fled the county before his April 1969 sentencing date. Wearing a gray sport coat and dark tie this morning, Bridgeforth did not address the court other than to enter his plea.
Defense attorney Paul Harris said his client had returned to San Mateo County from Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was living under an assumed name, to “right the wrong” in his past and face his punishment. Before returning to the Bay Area earlier this month, Bridgeforth had resigned from his job as a community college counselor and discussed his plans with his wife, mother and two adult sons, Harris said. “He wanted to show to his sons he was doing the right thing,” Harris said.
Bridgeforth now faces up to 15 years in prison for the assault, which occurred outside the White Front appliance store on El Camino Real on Nov. 5, 1968. Following a dispute over a $29 credit card transaction, Bridgeforth allegedly pulled a .38-caliber handgun on a store manager and two responding South San Francisco police officers, then jumped into a car with two other men and tried to flee, according to the district attorney’s office. As they were about to drive away, Officer George Bautista arrived at the scene and blocked the store’s driveway with his patrol car. Bridgeforth fired two shots at the patrol car, Harris said, and police returned fire, wounding Bridgeforth in the foot. The getaway car crashed and the three suspects were taken into custody. Bautista was not injured.
Harris said he has requested a face-to-face meeting between Bridgeforth and now-retired Officer Bautista before his client returns to court to be sentenced in February. The defense will also hand over dozens of letters of support from people in the Bay Area and people who knew Brideforth as “Cole Jordan” in Ann Arbor, including parents of community college students who said Bridgeforth “changed their lives” as a counselor, Harris said. “We also expect to have supporters from both communities in court,” Harris said, adding that he intends to request probation in lieu of a prison sentence for his client.
Harris said that Bridgeforth remains hopeful but is ready to face the consequences of his actions. He will be sentenced at a hearing in Redwood City on Feb. 3.
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