Police confirm Ian Murdock arrest before threatened suicide

Prominent open source programmer Ian Murdock died in an apparent suicide Monday, mere days after a violent encounter with San Francisco police that led to his arrest.

Ian Murdock, 42, was best known for his contributions to the Linux operating system, founding the Debian Project, a widely used Linux distribution, while a student at Purdue University in Indiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1996.

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Murdock had a distinguished career in programming, most recently working for San Francisco-based Docker, Inc. and previously working at Salesforce, Sun Microsystems and as chief technology officer of the Linux Foundation.

Docker company officials wrote in a statement announcing his death:

“He amazed everyone whom he worked with for the depth of his thinking, passion and experience. … He was truly brilliant and an inspiration to many of us; his death is a loss to all whom he has known and touched.”

Public concern about Murdock’s well being grew on Sunday when, in a series of posts on Twitter, he vaguely described a violent encounter with San Francisco police, accusing the department of beating him up and sexually assaulting him during an arrest.

Murdock’s Twitter account has since been disabled, but screenshots and archives of his tweets were widely distributed online after news of his death surfaced. In at least one tweet he alluded to suicide.

Murdock wrote:

“The police are uneducated, evil, and sadistic. Do not trust them. … The rest of my life is to fight against the police. … they are NOT friends, so don’t ever ever believe otherwise.”

San Francisco police spokeswoman Officer Grace Gatpandan confirmed Thursday that Murdock was arrested early Sunday morning after he was found yelling and screaming outside a residence in the 2400 block of Green Street.

Police were first called to the Green Street address in the Pacific Heights neighborhood at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday on a report someone was trying to break into a residence there, Gatpandan said.

They found Murdock nearby at Steiner and Union streets and detained him because he matched the description of the person trying to break in. He was belligerent with the officers and appeared to be drunk, she said.

When he was put in the back of a patrol car as police investigated, he became violent, banging his head on the metal cage separating the back from the front seat, causing an abrasion on his forehead, Gatpandan said.

They pulled him from the car to keep him from harming himself and he continued fighting with the officers, she said. Eventually medics were called to treat him and they took him to a hospital.

But a few hours later, at 2:40 a.m., police responded to the same address on reports that Murdock had returned, banging on the door and yelling. When they detained him, he allegedly fought with the officers again, Gatpandan said.

Since it was clear he would likely continue coming back, the officers decided to take him to jail on suspicion of four misdemeanor counts, including resisting arrest and assaulting emergency personnel. Before he could go, he was examined by medics and cleared, Gatpandan said.

He didn’t indicate at any point in the jail booking process that he was suicidal and was medically examined again in jail, she said.

On Monday, police returned to the 2400 block of Green Street on reports of a possible suicide. The city medical examiner’s office confirmed Murdock was found dead there.

Gatpandan said she urges anyone seeking help with a suicidal individual to quickly call police to get them to the help they need.

There are 24-hour hotlines available nationwide for anyone coping with depression or suicidal thoughts.

The Bay Area Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance provides regional 24-hour hotlines for suicidal individuals. In Alameda County the number is (800) 309-2131, in Contra Costa County it’s (800) 833-2900, in Marin County (415) 499-1100, in San Francisco (415) 781-0500 and in San Mateo County it’s (650) 579-0359.

More information can be found at www.bascia.org.