Federal complaint filed over death of Alex Nieto as supporters vow to keep fighting

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Roberto Hernandez with his son at an Aug. 22 rally (scroll down to hear what they said).
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

Protests have sprung up throughout the week in San Francisco, Oakland, and nationwide in response to the police shooting of 18-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO.

This afternoon [Fri/22], at the San Francisco Federal Building, a similar rally took place – only this one was in memory of a different shooting victim, Alejandro (“Alex”) Nieto, who was gunned down by San Francisco police officers five months ago. Nieto, who died at the age of 28, had been pursuing a career as a juvenile probation officer and studying at City College of San Francisco. 

There’s much to say regarding recent developments in this case – Attorney John Burris, who is representing Nieto’s parents, Refugio and Elvira Nieto, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today alleging wrongful death and violation of civil rights.

Shortly before Nieto was killed on March 21, a person had dialed 911 to report seeing a man in Bernal Heights Park with a gun. In reality Nieto, who worked part-time as a security guard, had a Taser in his holster, not a firearm. But the call sent police vehicles racing into the park in pursuit of a gunman.

What transpired next is in dispute: Police say Nieto pointed his Taser at officers, causing them to mistake it for a firearm and discharge their weapons. Yet Burris offered a very different account in the federal complaint, based on the account of an eyewitness, audio recordings, and other information gathered independently by attorneys and community supporters. "Based upon the witnesses' accounts there, in fact, was no justification for this unwarranted use of deadly force as contrary to the Defendants' claims, they did not hear Mr. Nieto threaten anyone or see him attempt to grab or point any object at the officers prior to being shot," the compaint charges.

Investigations currently underway at the local level have been delayed by a Medical Examiner’s report, according to attorney Adante Pointer, who works with Burris. The Medical Examiner’s office did not return phone calls from the Bay Guardian, but Bill Barnes, a spokesperson for the City Administrator, said in an interview that the Medical Examiner’s office is waiting on the results of a toxicology report. Initial results were inconclusive, Barnes added, so another round of testing is underway.

Look for a more in-depth story in next week’s Bay Guardian.

But for now, give a listen to what activism around issues of police violence sounds like when it’s coming out of the Mission District of San Francisco.

Longtime organizer Roberto Hernandez, who worked alongside his father and Cesar Chavez decades ago in the United Farm Workers’ movement, delivered some comments outside the San Francisco Federal Building today when activists who had marched from Bernal Heights Park gathered for a rally in memory of Nieto. Hernandez was there with his son, Tito, who also led the crowd in some chants.

Also from this author

  • Waiting for answers

    Community calls for justice and transparency in police shooting of Nieto after new eyewitness contradicts SFPD version

  • Department of Homeland Security issues security bulletin over peaceful protest

  • Eyewitness claims victim of officer-involved shooting did not brandish Taser