One Year After Alex Nieto’s Death, Bernal Family Is Transformed by Tragedy



One year ago, on March 21, 2014, Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill.

Several times during the last few months — and as recently as just last week — I have seen Alex’s parents, Elvira and Refugio Nieto, walking along the sidewalks not far from their home on Cortland. There’s nothing particularly unusual about the affect of Neighbor Alex’s parents as they walk the streets of Bernal Heights. Yet while opinions may differ on the sequence of events that transpired on the evening Alex died, there can be no doubt whatsoever about the anguish they feel after having lost their son — and that comes to the forefront for me every time I see them.

It is heartbreaking.

Mission Local captures the Nieto family’s new reality:

About to retire from her long career as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, Bernal Heights resident Elvira Nieto looked forward to her retirement. She and her husband, Refugio, had plans to surprise their son with a trip to the town of Tarimoro, in Guanajuato, Mexico, their shared birthplace.

But then on the evening of March 21, 2014, that son, Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, died during an officer-involved shooting in Bernal Heights Park. Neighborhood and police versions of the story conflict radically, but what’s painfully clear is that the Nieto family’s course has changed drastically.

Rather than ease into retirement, Elvira and Refugio Nieto have a new job—they’ve become full-time activists against police violence. Today marks the one-year anniversary of their son’s death and, for them, the work is far from over.

“[Alex] would ask me, ‘What are your plans for when you retire?’ I told him the only plan is to rest, but instead this happened,” said Elvira Nieto this week. “It’s all that we’ve done. I never imagined that this is what we’d be doing.”

There is a crowdfunding effort underway by Neighbor Alex’s family and friends to support the Alex Nieto Memorial Fund and create a memorial bench for him on Bernal Hill.

IMAGE: Top, Video still of Bernal neighbors Elvira and Refugio Nieto, parents of Alex Nieto, on Bernal Hill, December 16, 2014

24 thoughts on “One Year After Alex Nieto’s Death, Bernal Family Is Transformed by Tragedy

  1. BULLSHIT of the first order. Alex waved a weapon which people reported as a gun. Someone called 911. Police came out. They saw him brandishing what appeared to be a gun, and then he turned it toward them, and they shot and killed him.

    The problem in this case is not police brutality at all, it’s the failure of people to DEMAND walking police beats where police officers can get to know people in the community. Had local police been called they’d have known that he had a taser and not a gun. But police from outside the neighborhood responding to a 911 call had no way of knowing it was not a gun.

    I really resent this idolizing of a disturbed man who thought he was tough by brandishing a taser. With actions like that he shouldn’t have been a bar bouncer, either. His parents should have arranged for some kind of mental health counseling. THAT is the real tragedy here, that he didn’t get that kind of attention he no doubt needed.

    • This isn’t about whether the shooting was justified. And I won’t get into how any police officer should have been able to determine the difference between that taser and a gun, regardless of their station.

      This is about how parents are grieving for their son who was taken from them unexpectedly and how that changed the plans they had for their old age.

      Your comments may have been relevant a long time ago. If you’re looking to rehash tired talking points only tangentially related to an article’s topic go to sfgate.

      • Had the topic not been Alex Nieto there would be no story here. We’ve ALL had tragedy in our lives. By the time I was 22 both my parents had died, and by the time I was 23 my boyfriend was killed in a traffic accident. But we have to MOVE ON with our lives.

        I’m sure that in the past year many Bernal residents have had senseless, incomprehensible things happen to loved ones. People aren’t supposed to die until they get old, but they do, and unless the person is a 26 year old star basketball player or a well-known runner, or a tech mogul who drank too much, we won’t hear about them.

    • I would have to agree. The parents are a little late to save their son. They were negligent in their most important job on earth, parenting. Sad story no matter how you look at it. Everyone involved in this incident came out poorly.

      • Sorry, but I don’t buy into “blame mommy and daddy” culture. Alex was 28 years old.

        And I don’t think his parents are trying to “save their son”. Police violence is more serious a problem than ever, and working to prevent it is a noble pursuit no matter the initial impetus.

      • YES there is police violence. It’s not new. I still have a knot on my head from being clubbed by police during a raid of the Stud bar back in pre-history when police used to raid gay bars in SF.

        And SF has been rife with police violence the past several years, actually during the reign of every police chief since Frank Jordan. And BART and the OPD aren’t really any better. In fact, people continually lose sight of the killing of Oscar Grant by BART policeman, Johannes Mehserle and never mention it when bringing up other police brutality. The news kept referring to him as “former BART police officer” when he had resigned only after he had killed Grant. It’s as if the news media were siding with BART, when it was dumb-ass training preceded by lame-ass recruitment of Mehserle in the first place that led to this. Mehserle should have NEVER been a policeman, and BART should have trained their officers better.

        But the Alex Nieto case was not a case of police violence at all. It was police acting in the public interest to help protect citizens WHO HAD CALLED for help.

      • Firing 58 rounds is not “acting in the public interest to help protect citizens”.

        You’ve come a long way from being vicitimized by police to become an apologist for them.

        And using an article that’s solely about the Nieto family’s grief as your platform to rehash why his death was justified that day really just saddens me. It makes me feel sorry for you.

    • David,

      While I usually appreciate your forthright opinions on things, you are over the line here. This post is about the grief of a family and your reaction to that is vulgar.


      • I agree with DK on this. Statements like “Bernal neighbor “Alex Nieto was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill” doesn’t tell the whole story. It sugar coats it.

        Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Bernal Hill, after park-goers reported Nieto carrying what appeared to be a pistol and, as officers approached, Nieto “appeared to draw a weapon” (quoted from the original report referenced above).

        Officers have NO CHOICE but to expect the worst in an instant where multiple lives are at stake.

        The Nieto family’s time would be better served advocating for better mental health options, than advocating “against police violence” (that was justified).

        I met a neighbor recently, and while talking I asked about his family, and he revealed he had a daughter and a son, but his son had recently committed suicide.

        It was heartbreaking, just like Alex’s likely suicide by cop was heartbreaking, but you can’t blame the police when they are doing their job the best they can.

      • I think you meant to say, “Officers have NO CHOICE but to expect the worst in an instant where NO lives are at stake.”

        And nothing was sugarcoated in this article. It’s about the parent’s grief. Todd has no obligation to post the whole police report here when the article isn’t about the logistics of what happened that day. What’s at stake here for you that you think that’s necessary?

      • It’s an article about the grieving parent’s opposition to police violence, that leaves out the reason police shot their son. By doing so, it is disingenuously playing on the parent’s misplaced grief. That’s liberal guilt for you.

  2. Gosh. I certainly hope my lapses in perfect parenting don’t lead to my kids getting shot. I think we can all agree that Alex could have used more help and support, that the cops didn’t need to kill him, and that these parents are going through hell. And I think we can agree that the chances of a Hispanic man having a fatally unfortunate experience with the police is much higher than it would be for my two white daughters. I am thankful that this forum and others haven’t let this story go unnoticed. Hopefully, we all feel a little more compelled to reach out, help, and support all the other “Alexes” out there. My condolences to the family.

  3. DK, you might want to reflect quietly on how you perceived this post…

    It seemed to very deliberately not make judgement on the facts of the case, or ascribe any larger societal commentary to a few new details about an event that was a prominent local news story.

    I read the post as a simple statement about the grief that sometimes overtakes us when we catch sight of another person lost in sorrow. I, too, lost my own parents at a very young age. That does not make me resent the attention and comfort received by others who have lost someone. If anything, it makes me embarrassingly more likely to cry when I see another person’s tears, no matter what the cause.

    It is cruel to compare tragedies, proscribe the behavior of those who survive, or assume things about people that are unknowable. In general, it seems wise to be slow to pronounce judgement. It seems especially wise here, since your strong feelings may have misled you into seeing and responding to ideas and arguments that weren’t actually in the text of the post.

    A proper–or at least humane–response to a simple anecdote about grief and its aftermath shouldn’t begin with the word that yours did. That just seems heartless.

  4. Rather than continuing to victimize either the police or Alex Nieto (or his parents) I would recommend becoming activists for better mental healthcare. Including more effective ways of ensuring the mentally ill don’t become a threat to themselves or others. And obviously that includes further police training as well as better controls on lethal and non-lethal weapons possession.

    • Excellent point, Peter. Working through mental health issues is an area most people are loathe to engage in. It’s such a challenging subject, without easy to obtain information. And with no identifiable spokespeople championing the “cause”, it gets left to the wayside, and ultimately forgotten. The mentally ill are easy scapegoats. And in the case of Alex, it is much easier to blame police, parents, you-name-it, rather than delve into the frightening and disjointed world of mental health and mental health care.

    • I would get behind the Nieto’s efforts 100% if they were spent trying to bring awareness to the lack of mental health services in SF. By focusing entirely on police violence they’re missing the bigger picture. If Alex had received mental health treatment this entire situation might have been avoided. As it is, there has been a huge slash in funding for mental health services in San Francisco. Not to mention the stigma that goes along with seeking that type of treatment. The Nieto’s could bring awareness to this and actually make a real change.

  5. The other day I drove by 26th and Folsom where there was an anti-police Justice for Alex Nieto rally taking place. There were native dancers, drums, etc. Twenty-sixth and Folsom. Right in front of where one teenager tragically stabbed another one. Right there. Why the Alex Nieto group would pick that location seemed wildly cynical and inappropriate. Pretty sad.

    • “Why the Alex Nieto group would pick that location seemed wildly cynical and inappropriate. Pretty sad.” Nice quick judgment there, Kenny Dojo. Looks like you’ve decided that the protesters either intentionally picked that corner as a statement about the teenager-on-teenager stabbing, or that they were inexcusably ignorant of the stabbing, and that they were not decent human beings because they should have known that because a stabbing happened there, no protests should ever follow. Interesting take.

      I guess you have already thought about (and rejected) the possibility that other things may have happened on that corner other than just the stabbing (which is tragic and awful). Maybe you already knew, and intentionally ignored, the fact that the protesters carried a banner for another victim of a police-shooting, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, who was killed in the Mission in February (as reported in just about every article on the “Alex Nieto” protest). Or maybe you were just (inexcusably) ignorant of that fact and that event.

      And as you have already guessed, I think the “wildly cynical and inappropriate…pretty sad” statement applies much more to your comment than it does to the actions of the protesters.

      • the Perez-Lopez incident did not occur at that location, Adam K. Your words have nothing to do with what I wrote. They chose the place they did for a reason, and I am questioning that. Interesting that you would accuse me of snap judgment. I gave what I had to say some thought. Clearly, you did not, as your main point is completely wrong. So go navel gaze and be rote and hostile @ somebody else, OK? thanks.

      • My main point is that something else could have happened at that corner, other than the stabbing. Maybe I’m wrong that it was the Perez-Lopez shooting, but you haven’t convinced me that it wasn’t anything else.

        You really think they stopped there because of the stabbing? Or do you believe they they should have been aware of the stabbing and not stopped there because of it? Neither of those arguments makes sense to me, so your charge of wildly cynical, inappropriate, and sad makes no sense to me, either.

        I think you’ve found an excuse to dismiss the protest, but I think your excuse holds no water. Go ahead and complain about the protest, but don’t be surprised when your baseless attack gets called out.

      • it’s not an excuse to diss the protest. it’s my honest reaction at seeing them put it together at such a place, a place full of very stark, recent meaning. it rang false.

        but anyway, you’re clearly utterly fake, so whatever. changing your tune up big time after you tried a little gotcha on me. go ahead with your bad self.

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