Alex Nieto Shooting Investigation Will Be Very Long and Probably Very Unsatisfying


nietostenci Neighbor Jim noticed some ad hoc messaging on Cortland yesterday during his morning exercise:

Maybe you’ve already heard, but there are Alex Nieto stencils and posters on Cortland sidewalks on just about every block.

Yes, your Bernalwood editor noticed this as well. The posters remind us that four months after Alex Nieto was killed, justice has not been well served.

Neighbor Alex Nieto was killed during an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill during the evening of March 24, 2014. Yet apart from a very raw, very unverified set of assertions presented by San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr during a tense community meeting a few days after the shooting, precious little has been learned about the circumstances that resulted in the 28 year-old Bernal resident’s death.

Per San Francisco procedure when an officer-involved shooting takes place, an investigation is currently underway to determine what happened on Bernal Hill that night, and how events culminated in Nieto’s death. Bernalwood had assumed patience is required until such time as the investigation can be completed and the conclusions shared with the public. But we assumed wrong.

To get an update on the status of the investigation, Bernalwood spoke with the SFPD’s Press Office this week, where a helpful representative patiently explained how the process of inquiry works in the case of an officer-involved shooting death. Here’s what we were told…

In the case of Alex Nieto’s death, there are several, parallel investigations underway:

– An SFPD administrative investigation
– A criminal investigation
– The District Attorney’s investigation (which includes a report from the Medical Examiner)
– An investigation by the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC)

Once each of these investigations is complete, the findings are submitted to the Police Commission. The Police Commission receives the findings in closed session, and the results are not made public. The results are shared with the family of the victim, however, “as a personal matter, not subject to disclosure,” we were told.

The findings forwarded to the Police Commission also include a determination from the DA’s office as to whether the shooting was lawful or unlawful — ie. whether or not it was the result of a criminal or negligent act on the part of the officers involved.

So when will this not-for-public-consumption set of findings reach the Police Commision? That’s unknown, but the SFPD rep says “it takes a while.” Every case is different, but this one involved multiple officers, which makes it more complicated, so it may take long as a year to finalize all the reports. Or maybe less. Or quite possibly more.

(Tragedies are not created equal, so this is only for comparison’s sake, but… The Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash at SFO happened on July 7, 2013. It involved one highly complex Boeing 777 airliner, 307 people on the plane, multiple first-response agencies, two nations with jurisdiction over the case, and three fatalities.  The final report on the cause of the Asiana crash was publicly released less than a year later, on June 24, 2014. Just for comparison.)

Yet if prolonged timing in the Nieto investigation is understandable — first and foremost, it’s essential to get the facts right — the closed-door treatment of the result is disturbing.

In addition, pieces of the investigation that are supposed to be released — such as the Medical Examiner’s report — remain undisclosed.

Adriana Camarena, a representative of The Justice & Love for Alex Nieto Committee created by Nieto’s family and friends, explains:

Basically, the internal SFPD police investigation and the District Attorney’s criminal investigation are both awaiting the delivery of the autopsy report from the Medical Examiner’s Office. Without the report, neither party can conclude their investigation.

There is an outrageous delay in the delivery of an already concluded autopsy report. The D.A. told the Nieto Family that it is normal for two or three years to transpire before delivery of an autopsy report, but these reports are expedited depending on political pressures. (Consider the case of the German tourist shot in 2010, and the fact that six men have already been charged and a seventh recently arrested in 2014.)

D.A. Gascón promised the Nieto Family that he would expedite the autopsy report, but we have had no updates from him or his office. As you know, D.A. Gascón (appointed by Gavin Newsom) is the former Chief of Police of San Francisco and a career police officer (Mesa, Arizona and L.A.P.D.) We are concerned that he will avoid taking Alex Nieto’s case due to possible conflict of interests. It is up to him to take action and prove differently.

For that same reason, we are asking supporters to petition the US General Attorney for an outside federal investigation into the case of Alex Nieto. We demand the truth and untampered evidence for the trials to be delivered expeditiously.

Also, the D.A. promised the Nieto Family that he would investigate the shooting and any police conduct in the aftermath of the shooting that could result in criminal charges (e.g. entering and searching the family home without a warrant, taking and stripping the inside of Alex’s car without a warrant, interrogating the family about Alex under false pretense before telling them that he was killed by SFPD.)

Bernalwood called the District Attorney’s to verify the above, but our call was not returned.

So. If you want to know what actually happened during that warm, terrible evening last March on Bernal Hill, you should expect a very long wait for factual findings that you won’t be allowed to review, but which will ultimately be decided by panel of police commissioners meeting in closed session. That’s what justice in Neighbor Alex Nieto’s case looks like.

It’s something to keep in mind when you see those stencils and handbills on Cortland Avenue.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Jim

38 thoughts on “Alex Nieto Shooting Investigation Will Be Very Long and Probably Very Unsatisfying

  1. I don’t think people will appreciate the vandalism that’s been done to cortland over this issue. Very disappointed to see so many spray painted stencils everywhere. I understand some think this issue warrants further investigation, but this definitely doesn’t make me sympathetic to their cause. It raises awareness…but the wrong kind of awareness IMHO.

    • Huh? I appreciate the vandalism. What should spray paint and flyers protest, if not this? I can’t imagine a more worthy topic for stenciling. Would you rather see graffiti about someone’s post-emo band or the google bus?

      I don’t have any formed opinions on the shooting and it seems definitely within the realm of possibilities that the police acted totally reasonably given the situation and their level of information. There are other explanations, most of which are not so generous to the SFPD, that also cannot be ruled out.

      But it seems you’re saying that a discussion at the street level is unworthy here. How else should this subject be discussed — or are you saying his death should not be talked about?

      The one strong opinion I do have in this case is this: a situation like this is EXACTLY what public protest and street art were made for. The conversation regarding this death cannot take place just behind closed doors, it needs to be brought into the light and into the public sphere. Taking it to the streets is part of how that is accomplished. Additionally keeping the topic trending in the blogosphere is important these days, and I think that’s what Todd’s doing here.

      Also I don’t understand “the wrong awareness”. To me the unsanctioned art here raises awareness on multiple levels (one of which is: if you wave a gun-like thing around in a park, expect to get shot by the cops).

      tl;dr You don’t have to agree with all aspects of a protest to be glad that there is a protest. This idea may be closely linked to our country’s founding principles.

      • “What should spray paint and flyers protest, if not this?”

        Vandalizing the neighborhood to make a political point is a strategic blunder, because it gives a carte blanche to any aggrieved group to do the same thing to make their point.

      • Unless the stencils in question are made with chalk or water soluble paint they are indeed vandalism.

  2. Unfortunately Nieto’s family hired attorney John Burris to represent them and rape the taxpayers of San Francisco. Grief turns to greed very quickly doesn’t it? I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this investigation is dragging on because of Burris and his shady practice. A scumbag of biblical proportions.

    • One of my favorite things is when guys use the term ‘rape’ to mean something other than sexually violating a woman against her will. Well, that and when someone calls someone else a Nazi without actually meaning they worked for the German government during WW2.

    • You must be reading a different bible than me. I see a guy that’s nationally famous for success in his field, has been practicing law for almost 30 years, has done hundreds of trials, but 18 years ago had his license suspended for 30 days. I get it that you don’t like him, or just don’t like lawyers who bring police brutality lawsuits, but why not stick to just saying that?

      • Art, I’ve watched Burris for years and have NO respect for him at all. Calling him an opportunist is being nice.

  3. Thank you very much for this article. I have a greater understanding and sympathy of the frustration regarding this issue. No wonder there are so many stencils and posters on Cortland.

    • Small memorial?


      Keep your “small” memorials in your private space and leave public space to the public. The public is not obligated to honor “memorials” for every situation like this. memorialize with a gathering, not a permanent installation on public land.

      • Memorials like this are a common and traditional practice in many communities and cultures, especially Hispanic culture, to honor and memorialize the sudden and unexpected death of a family member or friend.

        I understand the worry that our public spaces will eventually get filled up with these if everybody erected them for every death in public, but it’s my understanding that they are rarely (if ever) permanent. Rather, they are maintained by the deceased person’s family and/or friends throughout their grieving process. I recommend folks do a little web research on roadside memorials and descansos and learn more about this tradition — grief takes all forms, and this is a particularly powerful one because of the public nature of its expression.

        I looked at the webpage link above and it’s clear that this memorial is important to Alex’s mother, family, and friends, who are still grieving from this sudden loss. I’d like to think that all of us on Bernal Hill are capable of a little compassion and empathy for a mother who lost her son — regardless of what you think of the circumstances — and respect our neighbor’s expression of her grief at the place where her son lost his life. This memorial doesn’t interfere with anybody’s enjoyment of that space — at least not in its present form and assuming that it is not permanent.

        And I say this as an atheist/humanist who disapproves of crosses and religious symbols on public land, and as a fierce defender of public property. If this was a permanent granite cross, I’d be with you Byrd, ParkStreet, and George, but in this instance I think we should let this family do what they need to do while they grieve the loss of their son.

    • On the one hand, I’m sorry that the memorial was disturbed. When I pass it every day while walking my dog, it reminds me to think of the terrible thing that happened there. On the other had, I don’t think anyone can assume it was “vandalized” by a “‘neighbor'” (or that it was “a clear malicious act”, which how the referenced article describes it) when there are so many other possible explanations. People come from all over to spend time in that park. Some of them know what happened, some have no idea. The banner could be hanging on the wall of some 9-year-old’s bedroom. The cross could have been snatched by a dog whose human companion was distracted and didn’t even notice.

      • Off topic, but I’m reminded in reading this that the glass globe that was hanging from the tree in Holly Park under which the woman got run over and killed by the parks department is missing, too. Feels weird to look there and not have some reminder of what happened. I haven’t heard any claims of vandalism or theft over it and her situation was really crappily-handled, in my opinion, as well. Not that the two need to unfold identically or have any similarities other than happening in the same year-span, within a mile of each other and at the hands of civic entities.

  4. What I’d like to see from the investigation are concrete proposals for reducing the likelihood that a situation like this happens again – e.g. using plastic bullets or nonlethal, incapaciting weapons as the first line of defense in these kinds of situations.

    But that doesn’t seem to be on the menu here.

  5. New drinking game! If ParkStreetKs (ParkStreet3ks and any other variants) ever has anything to offer as a comment besides “+1″…DRINK!

    I think we’re all going to be very thirsty.

  6. I think the vandalism aspect plays into the unruliness perception. If the people supporting Nieto’s cause are unruly like that, the reasoning will go, then Nieto probably was too, and the police story that he leveled a laser-sighted weapon at them and they shot him in self-defense becomes more credible, not less.

    Well under 5% of the people shot to death in America are shot by police, which is remarkable given how they are all armed and how many situations they get into with violent criminals (not to mention how frustrating their job must be arresting people they know are bad and watching the DA set them free for a technicality time and again).

    I don’t know any more than has been posted on this site (and not all of that) but I would suspect given the information that Nieto was disturbed in some way (have or will the family publicize the true details on that too?), he wanted out (i.e. suicide) but he wanted it to be a meaningful out (rallying people against the police with him as martyr for “brown people”). It would be easier to feel sympathy for his and his family’s plight without the angry racial politics and vandalism.

  7. Thank you Bernalwood. I saw the posters and stencils and was taken aback wondering why and why now. Clearly justice is delayed and has not been served. Bernal is a vibrant community and I am heartened that there are still some activists left and that we haven’t yet become like Noe Valley or Pac Heights where stencils or posters are non-existent. What happened in our neighborhood was a tragedy and it remains unresolved and rather than being offended by memorials or stencils I wish the people of Bernal were more concerned with finding ways to “encourage” justice to be expedited.

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