Scene of La Mesa officer-involved shooting at Amaya Drive and Fletcher Parkway. Photo via OnScene TV

A transient who allegedly chased a 13-year-old girl through La Mesa while armed with a machete and then charged police, prompting an officer to shoot him, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to four criminal charges.

Bernard Eugene Graham, 34, faces up to 55 years to life in prison if convicted of two counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and resisting a peace officer, according to prosecutors.

The defendant — who, according to his mother, is mentally ill — denied the allegations during an afternoon arraignment at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he is being treated for gunshot wounds to his abdomen and one of his arms.

The events that led to the shooting began just before 8:30 a.m. May 21, when Graham, clad in a black leather jacket, allegedly confronted the girl near La Mesa Skatepark as she was walking to school and threw a closed pocket knife at her, striking her with it.

The terrified girl ran off, and Graham gave chase, according to police. The teen managed to elude her pursuer by fleeing into a nearby sandwich shop, where she reported what had happened.

When police arrived in the area a short time later, they found Graham wandering around at Fletcher Parkway and Amaya Drive, carrying a machete. He ignored officers’ commands to disarm himself and then allegedly rushed them with the large bladed weapon over his head, at which point an officer opened fire on him.

The defendant’s mother, Gina Burns, told reporters at the hospital arraignment that her son suffers from bipolar disease. Burns said she had been trying in vain to get help for Graham, who was hospitalized for mental-health treatment last month but soon released to resume his life on the streets.

Graham, who is being held on bail $350,000 bail, has a prior conviction for arson, his mother said.

A readiness conference in the case is scheduled for June 6, followed by a June 11 preliminary hearing.

— City News Service

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