As the civil trial begins in a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of San Francisco following the 2014 death of Alejandro "Alex" Nieto at the hands of SF police, some fresh details on both sides of the case have emerged in opening arguments. The prosecution, with attorney Adante Pointer representing Nieto's family, opened with the emphasis on the 59 shots fired on Nieto, as KRON 4 reports. "It was 59 shots from those officers that took Alejandro Nieto away from his parents," Pointer said in court. "They fired 59 shots at a man who did not fire a single shot."
Meanwhile the defense, represented by Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner, argued that while Nieto may not have fired a gun, an expert witness will testify that Nieto did fire his Taser gun which he was carrying for his job as a bouncer at a nearby nightclub three times, and that officers "had absolutely no reason to think the black gun-shaped object in this man’s hand was anything other than a gun."
The trial comes at a moment of high tension around police violence and officer-involved shootings of unarmed civilians nationwide, but in particular in San Francisco where Mario Woods was shot multiple times and killed, in front of several cell phone cameras, on December 2 while armed with only a knife and while not appearing especially threatening.
Interestingly, the Chronicle refers to the eight-member jury in the Nieto trial as "ethnically diverse," while 48 Hills points out the fact that it includes no African Americans or Latinos they report the jurors are "five Caucasian women, all from the suburbs, two men of color, one Asian and one Indian, and one woman of color."
As ABC 7 notes, the number of shots fired by police is in dispute, and is between 48 and 59, but the Medical Examiner will testify that Nieto was hit by "at least 10" bullets.
We learned last month that the family has a witness from the scene on Bernal Hill that March night in 2014 who will testify that Nieto's hands never left his jacket pockets. But Baumgartner countered in her opening statement that that witness, Antonio Theodore, was 75 feet away up the hill and "did not have a completely clear view," as the Chron reports. She also argued that the Nieto had marks on his hands, which will be corroborated by the Medical Examiner, that could not have occurred if his hands remained in his pockets.
The case sounds like it will rest on whether the jury trusts the officers' account, or that of Theodore. We know from Nieto's autopsy and medical records that he was prescribed anti-psychotic medication and was not taking the medication at the time of his death, and the city has witnesses who will testify that Nieto was acting bizarrely that night, "making jerky movements... talking to himself and shadow-boxing." Officers say that Nieto, when told to show his hands, replied "No, show me your hands," and pulled out his Taser and aimed it at them.
A passerby in the park that evening, possibly a dog walker, was the first to call police saying that Nieto was acting strangely and had a gun at his hip, which turned out to be the Taser.
The first day of the trial brought protesters to the plaza outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building on Tuesday, some of whom were drumming and doing an Aztec dance. 48 Hills has photos, the most awkward and embarrassing of which is this one, in which a costumed dancer holding some incense approached Nieto's parents, Refugio and Elvira Nieto, as they walked up to attend the trial. Really, though?
Testimony from the four officers involved in the shooting, Jason Sawyer, Roger Morse, Richard Schiff, and Nathan Chew, is expected to fill much or all of the proceedings Wednesday.