The family of a man shot and killed by police in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights Park last month filed a claim against the city today seeking more information about their son’s death, attorney John Burris said. Speaking on the steps of San Francisco City Hall today surrounded by supporters, Burris, a veteran civil rights attorney specializing in police misconduct cases, said that police have released few details about the death of Alejandro Nieto, 28, despite numerous requests from his office.
The city has 45 days to respond to the claim and Burris anticipates eventually filing a lawsuit, he said. Nieto was killed on the night of March 21 after police responded to reports at 7:11 p.m. of a man pacing by a fence in Bernal Heights Park with his hand resting on what looked like a gun, police Chief Greg Suhr said at a community meeting about the shooting last month. Suhr said that when officers arrived they found the man in the park with his back to the setting sun and what appeared to be a gun in the holster. He said that Nieto pointed the weapon at officers, who opened fire fearing for their lives. Nieto was pronounced dead in the park.
The weapon turned out to be a Taser pistol, but Suhr said that from a distance it could be easily confused with a gun. Suhr declined to say how many times Nieto was hit by gunfire but said he was struck multiple times. Burris complained today that his office has not been able to learn the names of the officers involved in the incident nor have access to police or medical examiner’s reports. He said that he was able to have the body examined and learned that Nieto had been struck by at least 10 bullets and that it appears he was shot at by at least two officers. “When police commit a shooting of this kind it is very difficult to get evidence,” Burris said. ”
A lawsuit is one way we know we are going to get it.” In addition, Burris called for a federal investigation into the incident and said he has contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office to encourage them to do so. The accusations of police misconduct did not end with the shooting. Burris also said police illegally searched and impounded Nieto’s car after his death. The Nieto family spokesman Benjamin Bac Sierra, a professor at San Francisco City College, said that when the family was notified of the incident the next day the officers asked to search his bedroom but his father refused to let them do so. Burris said that officers then searched his car without permission or a necessary warrant, a “Constitutional violation,” he said. “They may have been able to get (a warrant),” Burris said.
“They didn’t do it.” Nieto, known to friends and family as “Alex,” was native to San Francisco and lived on Cortland Avenue in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. He was a security guard and attended CCSF with aspirations of being a probation officer. Bac Sierra said the Taser Nieto was carrying the day of the shooting was for his work as a security guard.
Friends and family members have said that he was a practicing Buddhist and Bac Sierra said he was “never arrested in his life. A spirit who could have done so much for this great city.” Suhr acknowledged in the meeting last month that Nieto had no criminal record, but said that he was prohibited from legally owning a gun because of mental health problems. According to court records there were two restraining orders filed against Nieto by a former friend who claimed that Nieto had attacked him in front of his 3-year-old son.
The second restraining order was filed the week before the shooting. The man said that Nieto had fired his Taser gun at him at least four times, according to court records. Bac Sierra said that a grassroots movement in support of Nieto’s family would continue with the next event being “Burritos on Bernal” at Bernal Heights Park at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 21, to mark the one-month anniversary of Nieto’s death.
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