Family of Alex Nieto Begins Legal Action Against City


Bernal resident Alex Nieto was killed on Bernal Hill following an officer-involved shooting on March 21. Yesterday, attorney John Burris filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nieto’s family seeking to compel the City to provide additional information about the circumstances surrounding his death. The SF Examiner reports:

Alejandro Nieto, 28, a San Francisco resident, was killed in Bernal Heights Park after being asked to show his hands but instead drawing a stun gun that was mistaken for a real gun, according to police.

On the steps of City Hall on Monday, about 30 people held a banner asking for justice as a lawyer for the family announced the claim filing with the City Attorney’s Office and called on outside agencies to investigate the incident.

“The version of the story that the police have trotted out, we have concerns and frankly skepticism,” said Adante Pointer, one of the family’s attorneys.

The City has 45 days to respond to the claim, after which the Nieto family can sue for what it says was an unjustified killing.

However, well-known civil-rights attorney John Burris, whose firm is representing the Nietos, said any questions about the incident will never be answered under the current system, therefore the family must sue to find out what really happened.

That system of police oversight, from the Office of Citizen Complaints to the District Attorney’s Office, rarely finds police in the wrong, Burris said. Yet at least three recent incidents — a federal indictment of six officers for allegedly violating constitutional rights, a police-involved shooting that ended with a wounded officer and Nieto’s death — show they do in fact mess up and even break the laws, he said.

“It’s always justified,” said Burris of the findings of most investigations into police shootings.

Some of the questions that remain unanswered include how many times Nieto was shot, the names of the officers involved, and why police questioned the Nieto family and searched their home before informing them of Alejandro Nieto’s death.

Alex Nieto’s friends and family have created a website for him at In addition, they plan to hold monthly Burritos on Bernal tribute walks on the 21st of each month, starting this Monday, April 21 at 5 pm. The walks will begin in Precita Park, and proceed up to Bernal Hill.

PHOTO: Nieto’s father (wearing 49ers cap) and John Burris (at microphone) yesterday at City Hall. Photo by Steve Rhodes


35 thoughts on “Family of Alex Nieto Begins Legal Action Against City

    • Really, George? Worthless human being? Maybe you meant this as obvious hyperbole, but I think it’s a pretty awful thing to say regardless. I mean, you’re not only passing judgment on his actions but you’re passing judgment on his being, on him as a person. On what basis do you cast such a judgment on any person, let alone this person? Ultimately, perhaps your comment says more about your qualities as a human being than anything about John Burris’s qualities as a human being.

  1. Like the family I am fairly skeptical of the official version of this terrible event. My guess is that police came expecting a crazy guy with a gun based on calls from witnesses, and just shot Nieto without much preamble. The part where he draws the taser was included for ex post facto justification,

    • Agreed. This guy was on his way to work, dressed and equipped for same, and the cops overreacted and killed him. A tragedy that would be entirely avoidable with better training for our police officers.

      • Funny, when I’m on my way to work I don’t hang out in the park and wave a gun around. There were multiple reports of a guy behaving erratically who appeared to be carrying a weapon. This is the same guy who had a restraining order for using his taser on someone he knew. If he drew it on the police then their shooting was justified.

        The only thing which will solve this crap once and for all is police cameras.

      • rrriiiggght– The reports are not that he was waiving a gun around, but rather that he drew the stun gun on the unleashed dog that approached and surprised him. It then appears that he holstered the gun because the dog owner reported that after he called the dog back and yelled at the man, Alex started “flexing,” yelling profanities, and threatening him. Other reports were that a man was acting erratically, even air boxing, and that he may have had a holstered gun. Nobody ever reported that he waived the gun around or that he aimed it at any person.

      • Where did you see that he was wearing a security guard outfit? (I’ve been trying to find that info for a while.)

        According to this: it’s not illegal to have a stungun/taser carried openly or concealed.

        I did find these limitations on tasers tho:

        5 CCR § 100015
        Stun guns and TASERS are not permitted on the property of any state universities.
        PC Part 1 Title 7 Chpt. 7 – Part 171b
        Illegal to have stun guns within any state or local public building or at any meeting required to be open to the public
        PC 626.10. upon the grounds of, or within, any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive.

        Cal. Penal § 417.26. Laser scope; aiming or pointing at peace officer
        (a) Any person who aims or points a laser scope as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 417.25, or a laser pointer, as defined in subdivision (c) of that section, at a peace officer with the specific intent to cause the officer apprehension or fear of bodily harm and who knows or reasonably should know that the person at whom he or she is aiming or pointing is a peace officer, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a term not exceeding six months.

  2. I’ve always liked John Burris, but in this case, no. There were far too many witnesses who said he had a gun, and it was too dark and Nieto was too distant for the cops to know that he didn’t have a gun.

    The idea of “nipping him in the wing” is the stuff of TV shows and movies. It is damned hard to aim a service revolver, so one has to fire at a wide area when threatened, and when Nieto turned the taser on the cops they had every reason to feel threatened.

    I’m on the cops’ side 100% in this.

    • You think SFPD still carries service revolvers? How quaint. They carry Sig Sauer.40 semi-automatic pistols.

    • Re: “nipping him in the wing” — at the first community meeting someone said this, apparently not realizing their statement contradicted itself:

      “He was 70 feet away from the officers. Did they really think Nieto would be able to hit one of them with the gun? And when the officers returned fire- why didn’t they aim at Nieto’s leg or shoot the weapon out of his hand?”

    • **There were far too many witnesses who said he had a gun, and it was too dark and Nieto was too distant for the cops to know that he didn’t have a gun.**

      Assuming those are the facts (which we don’t know yet/if ever), these are all reasons the police should NOT have shot someone multiple times. Witness descriptions in a park at a time of day when there are many people there… It was too dark and the person was too far away for them to see he didn’t have a gun… The choice in that situation should not be shoot and kill. I don’t know what police training would say about this situation, but shoot and kill better not be it.

  3. It’s understandable a family might refuse to accept their loss and look to inflict some of their pain back on the system. Right or wrong, I can empathize with them.

    Burris, on the other hand—lemme guess… he called them? Last time he made headlines was for bilking Rodney King out of his settlement.

    • Last time John Burris made headlines that I read was when he won 1.5 million for the family of Oscar Grant, who by all accounts he ably and competently represented. Based on that case alone I can see Burris being the first lawyer Alex’s family called, and he’d probably be the first person I’d refer somebody to if they were looking for a lawyer for this kind of case. First, he’s got the experience and track record. Second, he’s got the resources to take the case completely on contingency so the family doesn’t have to risk any of their own money.
      BTW, I don’t know Burris at all and have no skin in this case; I just don’t understand all the hating on him (and by proxy, all civil rights attorneys) here.

  4. Bean bag rounds/plastic bullets were made for situations like this one with Nieto. It’s time the SFPD look more into incapacitating non-lethal weapons as an option.

    • Sorry, this is San Francisco. The police have given up on trying to introduce tasers as the number of restrictions being placed on them by 24-7 campaigners for the dispossessed.

      They wanted to give them to 75 trained crisis intervention officers. But the campaigners succeeded in making sure they would be banned from using them on a) young people, b) old people, c) people in crisis, d) mentally ill, e) wet people and f) people near the road.

      So, at that point, sensibly enough, Chief Suhr thought ‘screw it’ and gave up.

      See ‘San Francisco Police Chief Withdraws Request to Use Tasers’ at ABC 7

  5. Good for John Burris for taking the case. In a just world, the officers would be prosecuted for shooting this poor guy. As it is, I guess a lawsuit is the best we can hope for.

    • I wish the family luck. I just don’t see how you win when you draw your weapon. They will also mention his recent aggression with a taser against a woman he was infatuated with. A restraining order was drawn in that case.
      I don’t understand why they couldn’t have shot him once in the leg. Excessive force maybe, but disarming Alex seems justified.

  6. I think that “it looks like it might be a gun, terminate life” is not a good standard. Obviously, I don’t know the situation fully, but if this is the logic, then that makes the penalty for carrying an overripe banana in the dark to be death without trial or jury. I’m not sure this meets anyone’s standards for a vision for society.

    As BP points out, there are a lot of non-lethal options available these days, and they’re tailor made for situations like this. It would be helpful, IMHO if we could get past the “YOU MUST DIE NOW” paradigm, and learn how to diffuse situations in a manner that allows either the accused or the officer to apologise to the other after the fact.

    • So you’re saying that the reports of Nieto brandishing the taser at a dog and his owner are false which is why they were called in? Because the cops knew it wasn’t a banana when they were called in. They knew they had a person gesticulating at himself and pointing a weapon at some sort at people walking nearby. Which then begs the question, why are you opining when you don’t know the situation even halfway.

      • Nobody reported the stun gun being drawn on them; just that he aimed it at an unleashed dog who approached and surprised him.

      • Adam, I too await further detail about what precipitated the call to the SFPD on March 21, but since this is the second time you’ve brought it up here… I’m not seeing much of a meaningful distinction between aiming the taser at a dog and “waving it around.” Can you please clarify how that would change the threat calculus for others who were on the hill that evening?

      • And anyone who has ever once visited the hill know there are unleashed dogs about……da.
        I have never been surprised by one. Perhaps he was dining on his burrito and the greasy smell attracted a dog – a very natural response. One would think a proper response would be to simply raise the burrito and smile at the dog owner. Not go full Rambo on the dog threatening it with a gun looking laser.

        Would really like to hear more form the dog’s owner.

  7. Well if you have an overripe banana and point it at the cops (after the cops have received 911 calls that the person had a gun), the cops are going to shoot you. If you raise your hands and stop like the cops say, presumably you will be okay. Perhaps this is my own upper middle class naivete – i.e., that following the cops’ instructions will avoid death. It is also sad when people have mental disorders and are not capable of following orders. But assuming the cops say put your hands up, and the person points a dark object at the cops, from the cops’ perspective, it is their own life or the perps’ life. What are they supposed to do? Hope its a banana?

    • I think it is your middle-class naivete speaking here. The police say that Alex brandished his gun and that’s why they shot him. But there was no video. We all want to believe that if the police say “put your hands up” and we do, we won’t get shot, but that’s not always the case. Just look at the Albuquerque police shooting from last month: The federal dep’t of justice just released a scathing report about the Albuquerque police’s systematic violation of civil rights.

      By the way, one reason I don’t automatically trust the police’s version here is because I’ve been the victim of an unwarranted police beating that left me in the hospital. The police then lied and claimed I was the one who assaulted them. The charges against me were dropped on the first day of my trial when my middle-aged architect neighbor presented testimony and photographs showing the police were the aggressors.

      Of course what happened to me and what happened in Albuquerque says nothing about what happened to Alex. Of course the police could have been justified in shooting Alex. But the system that we have now rewards coverups and lies in situations like this and often the only way the truth comes out is in a civil rights lawsuit filed by attorneys like John Burris. Folks want to believe that the police are always truthful and that innocent people don’t get shot, but sadly that is just not reality. Hopefully we’ll learn the whole story of this ugly incident and then if there were actions taken by the police that were either wrong or, if not wrong, could be done differently in the future, maybe it won’t happen again.

      • Let’s assume for a second that he did not aim his weapon at the police. What’s the motive for the police to fire on him? They don’t like him? They’re all just itchin’ to murder someone for no good reason? Something-something-gentrification?

      • Adam,
        All good points but saying the current system rewards coverups is certainly a bit of a stretch.
        I think “the current system” warrants increased diligence and attention from suspects – when the police stop someone and or make commands simply obey them, don’t be a belligerent pompous asshole and one will certainly have a different outcome.

  8. Sad and shocking how many people in this thread are taking the side of the murderers in this case.

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