Nieto Family Files Wrongful Death Complaint in Federal Court

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Grieving families. Medical examiner reports. Demands to release the names of the officers involved.

There is a grim parallelism to many of the recent officer-involved deaths across the country, including the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, and Alex Nieto here in Bernal Heights. But there are also important differences. In Ferguson and New York, medical examiners’ reports have been completed and released, and the identity of the officers involved in the incidents has been made public. But that hasn’t happened in San Francisco.

Against that backdrop, last Friday’s memorial for Bernal resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill was noteworthy not just because it was entirely peaceful, tightly focused, and well-organized, but also because it underscored the fact that, even after five months, Alex Nieto’s family still seeks the kind of basic information about their son’s death that has already been made public in high-profie cases elsewhere.

Friday’s march coincided with the Nieto family’s filing of a wrongful death complaint in federal court regarding the officer-involved shooting of Alex Nieto on March 21.

KQED reports:

The parents of a 28-year-old man shot and killed by San Francisco police officers on March 21 filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its police chief Friday.

The lawsuit disputes statements SFPD Chief Greg Suhr made just days after the shooting, and supporters of the slain Alejandro Nieto are suggesting a cover-up. Attorneys for Refugio and Elvira Nieto say witnesses came forward to dispute the assertion that Nieto pointed a Taser stun gun at officers just before he was shot.

A crowd of about 150 marched from the site of Nieto’s shooting to San Francisco’s federal courthouse Friday. Protesters’ chants referenced several controversial shootings by Bay Area police and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that has recently dominated national news.

Nieto’s death sparked anger in San Francisco’s Mission District. He was well known in the neighborhood and a criminal justice student at City College of San Francisco where he was studying to become a juvenile probation officer. He had been an intern with the city’s probation department.

He also worked as a security guard at a nightclub near the Mission and carried a Taser for the job. Nieto stopped to eat a burrito atop the city’s Bernal Heights Park on his way to work the evening he was shot.

Someone saw the holstered Taser and called police, according to Suhr’s statements and SFPD scanner traffic from the night of the shooting.

Suhr told an angry crowd at a March 25 town hall meeting that officers approached Nieto and asked him to show his hands. He said Nieto drew his Taser, which automatically emits a laser sight. Officers only shot after they noticed the red dot “on them, tracking,” Suhr said.

“They believed it to be a firearm, and they fired at Mr. Nieto,” Suhr said. “Mr. Nieto went to the ground. He assumed a prone position, again he acquired the dot, continued to track as other officers arrived.”

Suhr said at the time Nieto was prohibited from owning a firearm “for mental health reasons,” a statement also disputed by his supporters.

Oakland-based attorneys John Burris and Adante Pointer are representing Nieto’s parents. Pointer said sustained protests in the Mission District compelled witnesses to contact their office.

“The notion that he was waving a Taser, displaying a Taser, acting out violently with this Taser in any way toward the officers just flies in the face of what independent parties have come forward to say,” Pointer said.

SFPD Chief Suhr’s March 25 community meeting stands as the most up-to-date official account of the events that culminated in Nieto’s death, but it beggars belief that the City still cites that meeting as its official version of events. The problem is not that the March 25 meeting was chaotic and emotional — which it was. The problem is that it was preliminary and unverified. In the five months that have elapsed since the meeting, its credibility has been undermined by the City’s failure to complete the medical examiner’s report in the Nieto case and the unconfirmed nature of the SFPD’s accounting of what happened on Bernal Hill during the evening of March 21.

The City and the SFPD are doing themselves no favors here.

This is Elvira and Refugio Nieto, in the right foreground, carrying a banner during Friday’s march to the Federal Courthouse. Neighbors Refugio and Elvira live on Cortland Avenue, and Alex Nieto was their son:

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In the absence of a more complete and credible set of facts about the March 21 incident, it’s not hard to understand why Alex Nieto’s grieving family and friends — our Bernal neighbors — are using whatever means possible to develop their own narrative about how and why his life was taken.

PHOTOS: Alex Nieto Memorial on Friday, August 22, 2014 by Telstar Logistics

21 thoughts on “Nieto Family Files Wrongful Death Complaint in Federal Court

  1. “Friday’s march coincided with the Nieto family’s filing of a wrongful death complaint in federal court regarding the officer-involved shooting death of Alex Nieto death on March 21.”

    I’m sure the march and filing of a wrongful death complaint sharing the same date are purely a coincidence. This whole extravaganza was organized by John Burris.

      • Sorry, Todd. But I find a memorial a very odd place to file lawsuits. This does not square for me.

    • The Thursday night vigil, Friday morning Sunrise Ceremony, and 5 mile march were organized by Bernal and Mission neighbors, friends or Alex, and the http://www.justiceforAlexNieto.org committee to raise awareness and to support his parents as they file a federal lawsuit demanding justice for their son.
      Here is a video of the sunrise ceremony created by the SF Chronicle.

    • If the holders-of-the-information are not providing that information, and if those holders of information are elected, then those holders of information are likely to be swayed by negative public opinion. Hence, a march on the day of suit filing. Public pressure might make them cough up the missing reports and police cam videos, might make them finish or release the post-mortem report, and might make them think twice about redacting documents, disappearing physical evidence, hiding the truth, and such. Might.

  2. Thank you Todd for this. I was able to go to the vigil on Thursday night to show my solidarity with the family, and I was very impressed by how committed to peace and justice Alex’s family and friends were. At the very least, they deserve answers to these basic questions and support from the neighborhood.

  3. The cops believed he had a gun from the phone call. He either pointed the taser at the cops, or he did not put his hands up. Either way, the cops believed he had a gun and he was not following commands. The cop believes he is in a shoot or be shot situation. I don’t think it is reasonable for the cops to shoot at the knees or shoot to wound or what have you.

    This is not a troll post. I legitimately don’t understand what a cop is supposed to do in that situation. Its unfortunate what happened to Mr. Nieto, and sad that mental illness may have contributed, but it seems like the cops are being scapegoated. To people who are rallying, could you explain (in a civil manner) what I’m missing?

    • Weren’t the police dispatched in the first place after a number of 911 calls came from Bernalwood residents saying there was a guy on the hill with a gun? We now know that wasn’t the case it was a taser. But after people called 911 it’s certainly is not an unreasonable conclusion to arrive at. I am not a troll either.

      • The police released a photo of the taser (or whatever the term is) and it looked very much like a gun in a holster. I found the police story compelling and believable (and agree – what’s a cop SUPPOSED TO DO when he/she has to make a split second judgment call in bad light, knowing that people reported a gun…?)

        While I have to wonder if my impression of this story is correct and that I may be wrong, I have to wonder if the family has even considered that they are wrong about Nieto’s behavior — maybe he was causing a problem.

      • Even if Alex reacted badly to the cops coming towards him, I don’t buy that the first line of defense needed to be a hurricane of lead – and this goes for many of the now-well-publicized confrontations that police all over the nation have with ambiguously “threatening” people. Rubber/plastic bullets and other nonlethal (or less lethal) weapons are effective for incapacitating a suspect in an ambiguous situation, and can give a crucial few seconds to better evaluate the true risk.

        This is an approach that should be better explored. But it will not be, because we’re too willing – yes, even in enlightened SF – to write off a guy who’s the wrong color and looks at a cop the wrong way as disposable and “asking for it”.

  4. It’s ridiculous that the city hasn’t released the medical examiner’s report yet. Caille Millner at the Chronicle reported last week that “the medical examiner’s office is understaffed and has an inadequate facility for the tasks it is meant to perform.” But it’s been five months! Have they released any other reports since March?

    I’ve seen some of Alex’s supporters say that the SFPD sergeant at the scene had an on-body camera, and that the city was withholding the video. I notice that the lawsuit does not allege this.

    If video exists, it would be the most important evidence in the case. Putting cameras on every cop should be a priority for the SFPD.

  5. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Put everything out there. Our justice system is far from perfect, but I do believe it is still the best in the world. If the family needs to take legal action I say go for it, get the ball rolling, take every legal action available to you by the law.

    One thing that did bother me is the race baiting and class warfare. “Brown Lives Matter”…all lives matter. Black, brown, yellow, white, red, mixed…we are all one HUMAN RACE. Also to be co-opted by people like Andrew Szeto saying things like “We’re here because we want to link the housing crisis to police brutality, to state violence, because they’re hand in hand,” he said. “Gentrification doesn’t work without criminalization of black and brown people by the police” That is just not productive in seeking justice for Alex.

  6. Whether or not one agrees with arguments linking tragedies like Alex’s death to a broader social and historical context, we need at the very least to understand why those arguments are made. That understanding may change some minds.

    Some of you followed Ta-Neshi Coates’ much discussed article in The Atlantic in May entitled The Case for Reparations – Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole. Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic Magazine gave a talk at the City Club of Cleveland this weekend, in which he discusses the subject of his article, and comments briefly on the killing of Michael Brown and others. He’s a terrifically smart and engaging speaker, and his writings have helped me understand American history – and events such as those we’re discussing today – in a whole new way. A video of his talk and the follow-up Q&A can be found here.

    To accuse of race baiting those making the case that Alex’s death is connected to the history of how Black (and Brown) men are perceived and treated by police is disingenuous, and sadly ironic.

  7. Thanks, Todd, for staying on top of this. It’s the most balanced and fact-based reporting on this young man’s death I’ve read.

  8. White liberals have nothing what-so-ever to do with this problem, the police are all of it. If only we can fix the police, minority achievement, employment, and income will rise dramatically. We are very sorry for their brutal behavior toward you and we are making that VERY CLEAR on the Internet. Things will be better in no time. ¡Cinco Alto!

  9. Pingback: Medical Examiner’s Report in Alex Nieto Case Details 10+ Gunshot Wounds, Mental Health History, Taser Discharge | Bernalwood

  10. Pingback: Alex Nieto’s Family and Friends March from Bernal Hill to Bayview | Bernalwood

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