Nearly two years since the police shooting of Alex Nieto, a federal civil rights trial is set to begin in the case on March 1 in which at least one eyewitness will directly contradict the SFPD's version events. As 48 Hills first reported, a deposition was given in the case by a man who was walking a dog on Bernal Hill just 20 feet away from the incident on March 21, 2014 and he did not see Nieto pointing a Taser at officers, as the police have described.
Witness Antonio Theodore describes the 28-year-old Nieto looking "cool and casual" as he walked toward officers, with both hands in his jacket pockets. He watched as Nieto was shot the first four times, dropping to his knees, and saying, "he had no time to pull his hands out." Theodore said he only heard one officer shout "stop," and that Nieto didn't respond before the shots were fired.
U.S. District Judge Nathanael M. Cousins has called Theodore's statement "dramatically different" from that of the officers involved, and last week he ruled against the department's request to delay the trial due to the availability of one expert witness who will back up their version of events.
Police were called to Bernal Heights Park because of a 911 call made, possibly by a dog walker, about a suspicious person with what appeared to be a handgun at his hip, sitting and eating chips or sunflower seeds on a bench in the park. Nieto was a full-time security officer at El Toro nightclub and therefore kept a licensed Taser at his hip on his way to the job, as he was that night. According to Justice4AlexNieto, he often went to the park to eat his dinner before heading to his shift, and at least one other witness said he did not appear threatening at the time.
In the SFPD's version, Nieto was acting erratically and was perhaps suffering from mental illness at the time of the incident. He allegedly made threats against them, and drew what appeared to be a weapon before they shot him, and the weapon later was discovered to be a Taser. An earlier Medical Examiner's reports said that Nieto had a history of both aggressive behavior and auditory hallucinations, and was noncompliant when it came to taking his anti-psychotic medications. Those medications were not found in his system in an autopsy, though traces of cannabinoids were.
Nieto's family and supporters have maintained he was a victim of racial profiling, and that he never drew a weapon.
SFPD Sgt. Jason Sawyer and officers Roger Morse, Richard Schiff, and Nathan Chew were named as the officers involved in the shooting, and Nieto was found with 15 bullet wounds to his body.
Nieto would soon become a local example of cops' use of excessive force to subdue unarmed suspects as furor around the Ferguson case grew in late 2014, and the Nieto case has again been added to protests over the December shooting of Mario Woods, whose death at the hands of officers has caused even greater furor because it was capture in multiple cell phone videos and Woods did not appear threatening in the least as he was gunned down.
Per the Examiner, the civil trial in Nieto's case comes just after a local screening of a documentary film last week called Lowrider Lawyers: Putting a City on Trial, in which the SFPD's version of events is criticized.