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Urban Alchemy worker who fired gun on busy San Francisco street is in line for promotion

Darnell Houston, an Urban Alchemy worker, pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

An Urban Alchemy worker who fired eight shots into a busy Tenderloin street in San Francisco is in line for a promotion to become the nonprofit’s director of community and engagement, according to court documents.

Darnell Houston, who is currently an Urban Alchemy supervisor and was on duty at the time of the April 2021 shooting, said he acted in self-defense after three individuals had approached him and fired a bullet that grazed his leg. 

Houston retrieved a gun from his car and engaged in a shootout with the three individuals, causing bystanders to run and hide for safety, court documents say.

Bystanders at the Tenderloin shooting ran and hid for safety, according to court documents.

Houston pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm last year and was sentenced to time served on Thursday for the three months he spent in San Francisco County Jail, according to his attorney. Houston will spend three years on probation as a condition of his release. 

His attorney argued that Houston acted out of character in this incident and that he feared for his life. He told the court that his client was armed in response to violence he experienced growing up in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood.

Urban Alchemy’s Chief Operating Officer Bayron Wilson wrote in a letter of support to the courts that Houston excels at the skills of de-escalation, customer service, conflict resolution and trauma-informed care. Wilson said Houston is in good standing to be the next director of community and engagement.

“Darnell is genuine and a benefit to any community,” Wilson said. “It’s an honor to have him on the team.”

The nonprofit is known for hiring people with criminal histories, contending that people who have spent time in jail or on the streets are well equipped to compassionately de-escalate potentially violent situations.

Many neighbors in the Tenderloin have applauded the organization’s ability to clean up the neighborhood. However, several of the organization’s workers have been involved in violent confrontations and the city is planning to expand the nonprofit’s presence in Downtown San Francisco.

Urban Alchemy did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. 

Jonah Owen Lamb contributed additional reporting for this story.
David Sjostedt can be reached at