District Attorney Releases Report on Alex Nieto Shooting, Will Not Press Charges Against SFPD Officers


The San Francisco District Attorney decided to release some important news late Friday afternoon, likely in the hope that you wouldn’t pay much attention over the holiday weekend. So Bernalwood brings you this news today, in the hope that you are now paying very, very close attention…

Last week, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that the four SFPD officers who participated in the March, 2014 officer-involved shooting death of Cortland resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill will not face criminal charges as a result of the incident.

Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle summarizes DA Gascón’s report:

Gascón’s report said all four officers had “continued to believe their lives were in danger … until Mr. Nieto’s head and weapon went down.”

The four — Lt. Jason Sawyer and Officers Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew — had responded to witness reports that Nieto, a 28-year-old Mission resident, had a gun and was acting erratically on March 21.

The officers “saw what appeared to be a gun as soon as they encountered him on a hill,” the district attorney’s report said. “Mr. Nieto refused to obey orders to show his hands and, instead, immediately drew and pointed his weapon at the officers.”

At a news conference, Gascón added, “Given the circumstances, I’m not sure this was a preventable shooting.” In such instances, he said, “a shooting is likely to occur. It is lawful. It is clearly constitutional, and I’m not sure there is much that could have been done to prevent it.” […]

Gascón’s report to [SFPD Chief Greg Suhr] provided the most detailed account by authorities of the shooting. It said that on March 3, less than three weeks before he was killed, Nieto was accused of firing a Taser at the estranged husband of a friend.

On the day of the police shooting, prosecutors said, several dog walkers at Bernal Heights Park reported feeling threatened by Nieto. One witness told investigators Nieto had pulled what looked like a pistol from his holster and pointed it at his dog — the animal had taken interest in a bag of chips Nieto was eating — before realizing it was a Taser.

“When he turned it into profile and aimed it at my dog, that’s when I could tell that it was a Taser just because of the size of the muzzle area,” the witness said.

The witness said he begged Nieto not to shoot his dog with the Taser, telling him the dog wasn’t aggressive and “just wants some chips,” according to the report. Nieto aimed the Taser at the witness and yelled expletives, the report said, before the witness left the park, while warning others about Nieto.

After Schiff and Sawyer arrived, in uniform, and ordered Nieto to show his hands, Nieto allegedly walked toward them, lifted his sweatshirt to expose a black holster, and shouted back at the officers, “Let me see your hands!” Nieto then “squared off with them in a defensive stance,” the report said, drew what turned out to be the Taser and pointed it directly at officers.

Schiff and Sawyer, who was then a sergeant, opened fire, authorities said. Nieto fell to the ground with his hands in front of him, police said. Schiff reported seeing a red light coming from the object Nieto was carrying and “thought it might be a laser sight. Both officers believed Mr. Nieto was still trying to fire back at them, and continued to fire,” the report said.

For better or worse, Gascón’s long-overdue report now stands as the most detailed official chronology of the events that took place on Bernal Hill on March 21, 2014. You can read the complete text of Gascón’s report to SFPD Chief Suhr right here (PDF); It paints an unsettling picture of the scene that evening. An excerpt:


Responding on behalf of Neighbor Alex Nieto’s family and friends at the Justice4AlexNieto website, Ben Bac Sierra says DA Gascón’s report is not credible:

Scholarship student and security guard Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at San Francisco Police Officers Sawyer and Schiff. There is at least one witness who saw everything and emphatically confirms that Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at officers. This witness was never interviewed for the district attorney’s report.

But for one moment let’s forget the witness. The district attorney’s report accepts the police department narrative: two veteran San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) police officers have their weapons drawn aiming directly at Alex Nieto who is eating a bag of chips walking down the hill. Both officers KNOW he has a firearm. These two READY police officers then allow Alex to square off with them, reach into his holster (they KNOW he has a gun), and they allow Alex to point this “gun” directly at them BEFORE they finally make the decision to start shooting at him 59 times.

This tale is ridiculous and unbelievable, yet they expect us to accept it.

There was no reason for Alex to have been shot at 59 times! This entire sham is a cover up to hide the SFPD’s incompetence, lack of fire discipline, and illegal and intimidating investigation. They will not take responsibility for killing an innocent, promising young man, Alex Nieto, our brother.

While no charges will be filed against the SFPD officers, other aspects of Neighbor Alex Nieto’s case are ongoing. Mike Koozmin from the San Francisco Examiner describes the next steps:

Gascon said today that he recognizes that Nieto’s death was a tragedy and has offered to meet with Nieto’s family members, but that they have so far declined to meet with him. While the district attorney’s office has concluded that the police officers believed they were in imminent danger when they discharged their weapon, Gascon wrote in his letter to the chief of police that his office did not examine issues such as compliance with the policies and procedures of the San Francisco Police Department or ways to improve training or tactics. The letter also does not address any issues related to civil liability.

Gascon has also recommended the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further investigation.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Nieto family against the city for violation of Nieto’s civil rights, on the grounds that police officers allegedly used excessive force against him, is pending.

 IMAGE: Photo illustration by Telstar Logistics

6 thoughts on “District Attorney Releases Report on Alex Nieto Shooting, Will Not Press Charges Against SFPD Officers

  1. Well now all the family is in the game for is city money. I think the citizenry can give them donations directly if they feel inclined. But this should close the case as far as city responsibility is concerned.

    Once again the core of the issue is the handling of the mentally ill. Why this known-to-be-violent, known-to-be-mentally-ill individual was hired for a job where they carried a taser is the central question. The fact that was not prevented not only resulted in the death of Mr. Nieto but should also absolve anyone not involved in that decision of any responsibility for that death. If the family wanted money as compensation for his death, it was incumbent upon them to ensure he remained unarmed to the best of their ability, and we’ve seen no evidence of that effort. Had it been the city who knowing of his condition and criminal record nonetheless armed him, they would have a claim against the city.

    I think their best claim now is against the employer who did arm someone who clearly should not have been armed, but to win that claim they should show evidence they attempted to stop the employer from arming him while they had the chance. They could also sue the gov’t for not enforcing strong enough nonlethal arms restrictions. But all they have a chance of doing suing the city for wrongful death is wasting a bunch of taxpayer money on legal defense, and it would be kind if they skipped that.

    Sorry this happened to your kid.

    • Well, you don’t seem to acknowledge that this is not an independent investigation, but an account of what happened from the standpoint of people who might be the targets of official blame or financial responsibility if another narrative were to be established. For you, it’s “case closed” and a waste of time and money to investigate further.

      If the truth lies somewhere outside the official narrative, which they delayed releasing for almost a year after the events, the process of figuring out if this report is credible begins only now. The delay is unconscionable. Which of the facts in the report did the D.A. not know within a few weeks or months of the events? In the meantime, the family’s investigation has been blocked.

      • If a police officer is caught on video clearly murdering an unarmed, nonthreatening individual, the DA and other city officials are in no jeopardy for the act. The city in that case may have to pay a wrongful death judgment or settlement but that does not threaten any gov’t official other than the police officer(s) involved in the act. So no, the DA is not automatically biased in favor of the police in this case.

        The important points about this case were made public by the police and others within a few days of the event. Why they have delayed this final announcement until now, and sent it out late on a Friday, is clearly due to their prevailing interest in maintaining public order. Quite contrary to complaints (like that of this blog’s editor) that slowness of the investigation cannot be justified, it’s entirely justified given the facts of this case were clear and the effect their release might have on public order if released too abruptly could end up with more individuals (not to mentioned businesses) injured. That form of mismanagement _would_ reflect poorly on the gov’t officials responsible for those decisions and they did their jobs correctly under the circumstances.

  2. Nieto’s death was a tragedy.

    If the report had been released too soon, there would have been protests that it was rushed.

    What is not in doubt is that Nieto had a taser that looked like a pistol, that he was acting erratically and threateningly, and was to some extent mentally ill.

    All of those factors added up to a tragedy. The knee-jerk reaction to blame police as murderous racists is a shameful and harmful to the cause of civil justice. I would say that any of the professional protestors who accuse the police of intentional murder should have to face each officer and say to them that they believe that officer purposefully chose to kill a young man because of his skin color. I would say that in the hope that it would cause the person to realize the awfulness of their accusation. But I don’t believe these people have consciences.

    There are bad police officers. They deserve to be found out and punished. Automatically blaming the police in every incident of police use of force is not justice; it is plainly and simply wrong. It distracts from real incidents of police misconduct. It destroys the credibility of people with legitimate grievances.

    Why are gun shaped tasers legal? Why are people with mental troubles allowed to carry weapons of any sort? What would you do if you were an officer responding to a report of an armed person at dusk, and saw a gun shaped, laser sighted weapon pointed at you?

    None of us were there. None of the protestors were there. It is prejudiced to blame the officers based on one’s feelings about police.

    A tragedy occurred. It is made even more tragic by people saying, in effect, that four officers willfully and purposefully chose to murder the victim. Those are real people, with real families and lives that are being accused of such evil.

    The ugly, simple truths about weapons, and mental illness, and the responsibility of friends and family of the mentally ill, are just as tragic, but not as likely to get headlines and high site-visit counts.

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