The San Francisco Police Department released the names today of three police officers and a police sergeant involved in the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Alejandro “Alex” Nieto in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood in March 2014.
According to San Francisco police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza, the four members of the San Francisco Police Department involved in the shooting were Sgt. Jason Sawyer, Officer Roger Morse, Officer Richard Schiff and Officer Nathan Chew. The release of the names of the officers involved in the shooting comes after numerous protests in recent months by the public demanding the names be released.
In December 2014, a court order was issued by Federal Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins requiring the release of the names of the officers in a civil rights lawsuit by Nieto’s parents against the city. The San Francisco medical examiner’s office released a full autopsy report in September for Nieto that confirmed he was struck by at least ten bullets when he was fatally shot by police at Bernal Heights Park on March 21, 2014. The autopsy report indicates that Nieto suffered as many as 15 gunshot wounds from as few as ten bullets.
The medical examiner’s office also included medical records from San Francisco General Hospital that, according to the autopsy, “revealed a history of aggressive and bizarre behavior, auditory hallucinations,” as well as Nieto’s noncompliance to prescriptions for two atypical anti-psychotic drugs. The medical examiner’s office reported traces of cannabinoids in Nieto’s system at his time of death and no trace of anti-psychotic medications. Nieto, a San Francisco native who lived on Cortland Avenue in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, was a security guard who attended City College of San Francisco. Nieto reportedly had aspirations of becoming a probation officer.
In the week following the fatal shooting, San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said at a town hall meeting that a call came in to police at 7:11 p.m. on Mar. 21 reporting a man at Bernal Heights Park wearing a bright red jacket with what looked like a black handgun on his hip who was pacing by a chain link fence near a bench. The caller described a man with his hand resting on what looked like a gun. Officers arrived at the park within minutes and encountered Nieto with what they believed to be a gun in a holster, Suhr said. He was standing about 75 feet away from them with his back against the setting sun.
According to Suhr, when police asked Nieto to show his hands, he said, “You need to show your hands.” Suhr said Nieto pointed his weapon at several officers, prompting them to fire multiple rounds at him. Nieto was pronounced dead at the scene. “They fired in defense of their own lives,” Suhr said following the shooting. Suhr said the officers thought Nieto had a firearm in his possession. However, it was determined following the shooting that because of mental health issues, Nieto was prohibited from legally owning a gun, and that he had only a Taser stun gun on him at the time of the incident. Suhr said officers could have misconstrued the stun gun as a real gun.
The autopsy report also describes the case history, stating that based on interviews with officers at the scene, Nieto “reportedly brandished and discharged a Taser at the officers” who shot him. After Nieto was shot, the officers then handcuffed him, according to the report. He was declared deceased at the scene a short time later. Nieto had no criminal record, according to Suhr, but a man who said he used to be friends with Nieto had filed a restraining order against him the week prior to his death.
In the court document requesting the restraining order, the man said Nieto had attacked him in front of his 3-year-old son. He said he feared for his wife and his three young children. Nieto previously had a restraining order against the man, who described their deteriorated friendship as “bad blood.” In other court filings, he claimed Nieto had fired his Taser at him at least four times. The civil rights 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.
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