Crowd Shouts ‘Liar,’ as Police Explain Nieto Shooting

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In a room filled with more than 200 people, Chief of Police Greg Suhr said that police officers who shot and killed 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto Friday night on Bernal Hill  thought the victim was pointing a hand gun at them. It was only after Nieto was down that they discovered the young man was carrying a taser.

“When officers saw the laser sight, they believed it to be a firearm,” said Suhr who had to pause throughout his brief presentation as shouts of “pig,” “liar,” and “murderers,” echoed through the room at Flynn Elementary School.

To illustrate the similarities between the two, Suhr  provided a side-by-side photo comparison of a traditional handgun and the taser Nieto carried in a holster.  “When officers asked him to show his hands, he drew his taser from the holster,” Suhr said.

Officers, he said,  were responding to a 911 call that a man was on Bernal Hill with a gun. When they arrived they found Nieto sitting on the hill eating chips with his hand on a holster. Because Nieto was about 75 feet away and uphill with the sun setting behind him, Suhr said the officers arriving on scene were unable to tell the difference between a taser and regular gun.

“The officers fired in defense of their own lives,” Suhr said.  Police have yet to reveal the names of the officers involved in the shooting but said they were currently on leave.

How many times police fired is unclear.  While some friends reported hearing 12-16 rounds—that number was cited frequently throughout the night—Suhr said he could not confirm that detail until the release of the Medical Examiner’s report. He did say to the press that four officer’s guns were discharged.

To the family,  friends  and neighbors of Nieto, many longtime Mission residents and community activists, Suhr’s description of events failed to lessen the horror of Nieto’s death or diminish the raw anger felt toward the San Francisco Police Department. For many, the story hardly seemed credible.

“There is no way I can believe Alex pointed the taser at them,” said Benjamin Bac Sierra an instructor at City College and friend of Nieto. Bac Sierra said he believed that Nieto knew better given that he was a trained security guard and studying to be a parole officer. “This is totally unsatisfactory…there’s a gigantic rationalization happening here that I don’t buy.”

In addition to studying criminal justice at City College, Nieto was a practicing Buddhist and many that  knew him described him as a pacifist, saying allegations that he was prone to violence and mentally unstable are overblown. Furthermore, while former friend Arthur X. Vega had taken out a restraining order against Nieto.  Nieto had also taken out a restraining order against Vega.

“Alex was one of the greatest sweethearts I knew,” said one friend.

After Suhr’s brief presentation, nearly four hours of public comment revealed a community in the throws of incredible heartache, confusion, suspicion, and rage.

Many called for an independent investigation. The department has begun its own internal review. The Office of Citizen Complaints, a civilian-run agency that investigates police incidents, has yet to begin an investigation waiting for a formal complaint that will surely come following Tuesday’s hearing.

Among those calling for independent investigation was Supervisor David Campos.  “We have a choice to make, do we focus on anger or get something positive…we do need an independent, full investigation of the Police Department.”

Nieto’s family has hired attorneys from the Law Offices of John Burris, the same firm that represented the mother of shooting victim Oscar Grant, and is investigating the incident further. At Tuesday’s hearings, representatives were handing out fliers seeking potential witnesses of the Nieto shooting.

Others wanted much more than just an investigation. Representatives from activists groups like Our Mission, No Eviction and ANSWER Coalition said there will be a protest and rally Saturday at 2 p.m. starting at the Mission Culture Center, though details have yet to be confirmed. Additionally, some speakers said they planned on providing additional comments at the Police Commission meeting Wednesday night at the Tenderloin District office.

“This was murder that just happened,” said Gloria La Riva a representative of the ANSWER Coalition. “We’re tired of it and we’re going to fight back.”

Several speakers directed their anger at Suhr and the several uniformed officers that stood stoically around the room, citing other recent examples of conflict between police officers and the community, such as a November incident at Valencia Gardens in which police allegedly roughed up a young man on a bike.

“There was a time we were fearful of gangs, now we’re fearful of the police,” said Bianca Gutiérrez a Mission resident who brought her young son Sebastian to speak as well.

For those in the room, Nieto’s shooting seemed to also reflect larger themes of a changing city. The race and class dimension of young, Latino male killed in a gentrifying neighborhood ran throughout many of the comments. Many expressed a growing sense that neighborhoods like Bernal Heights and the Mission, once welcoming to working class communities of color, are becoming increasingly alienating and hostile.

“Let’s talk about these calls [to the police], since we’ve started to be gentrified again I’m getting called on to the police,” said  Roberto Hernandez a longtime community activists who explained that with new neighbors his usually acceptable house parties have garnered surprising new complaints. “These calls are reminders that there are new people here that love our culture in the Mission…but they can’t deal with the people that are already here.”

Throughout the evening, Alejandro’s father Refugio sat in the front row responding with a small head nod to frequent words of condolences for his deceased son, including one from Suhr himself who said apologized on behalf of the San Francisco Police Department.

In an exchange with Campos, Nieto explained how he was informed of his son’s death a day after the shooting took place and that officer interrogated before delivering the news.

“On behalf of city, that is really shameful,” said Campos to Nieto.

In one of the only quiet moments of the evening, one of Nieto’s fellow Buddhist practioners called for a moment of silent prayer. For just a few seconds, the entire room fell into a hush.

36 Comments

  1. NFS

    He was a ‘pacifist’, but he was (allegedly) carrying a taser in a holster and had a restraining order against him? Someone called in a report of a man with a gun? Officers fired (allegedly) when he pulled out a taser they mistook for a gun. What the F*%k does this have to do with gentrification? An independent review of the shooting a blame laid where any may or may not be due, absolutely! But gentrification? Absurd!

    • B

      Yes gentrification, 6 years ago this wouldn’t have happened. People who were raised in the mission and still reside here seem to be the only ones affected by this .. Why ? You tell me..

    • Backtotheburbs

      He carried a taser for work, meaning his employer trusted him. And the google glass hole lady had a restraining order against her by her mom.

      This in now in a series of bad neighborhood law enforcement events. Indeed, just a few years ago things were quite different.

      As to why? Well, the new arrivals are paying up the wazoo, which just adds to their entitlement. And many arrived from homogeneous, intolerant, non urban environments. So culture and class clash. Whereas the majority of the hood in recent history is tolerant, perhaps up to the point where their life here has become endangered. The broader pattern is a hard clash of live-and-let-live with an antiestablishment bent vs. alpha-wealth-society-disrupters.

      Has anyone noticed that vegetarian/vegan dining in SF is becoming rare? How many new vegetarian restaurants? You are lucky to have 1-2 veggie options, often an afterthought. The palates of the alpha-wealth-society-disrupters crave meat and blood…

  2. NFS

    Further information Mr. Hirsch left out of his article here:

    http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Crowd-demands-answers-at-meeting-after-S-F-5349415.php

    Disappointing ‘journalism’ Missionlocal.

  3. SF boy

    I attended the meeting. Because the only witnesses are the police officers, their story will hold and that will be it. The structure for police accountability in this town is set up to avoid actual accountability. The Office of Civilian Complaints and the SFPD both fall under the same oversight of the Police Commission, so the organizational structure institutionalizes cronyism and cover up rather than full disclosure.

    The lack of full disclosure was evident last night when Suhr consistently lied and refused to answer questions about the number of shots fired by the police, even when pressed by knowledgeable attendees. He knows exactly how many shots the police fired because he has the guns they used, unless the officers are withholding evidence from him, which I doubt.

    The town hall meeting serves the police department well to diffuse community anger. Only through persistent efforts and community push back are the police ever held accountable. For the most part, they are above the law. It is the rare situation where their misdeeds are punished. It took uprising in Oakland before the DA would charge Mesherle even with overwhelming video evidence showing him murdering Oscar Grant, video evidence that the police worked hard to confiscate that night. The illegal beatings of the bicycle riders at the 24th Street BART Plaza and Valencia Gardens remain unpunished.

    I hope the community’s righteous outrage will lead to substantive change with the relationship between the SFPD and the community. I doubt it, however. This meeting, maybe a march or two and that will be it. Back to business as usual.

    What was clear last night is that the SFPD is not part of the community that it is supposed to “serve and protect.” They have minimal relationships with us and feel little kinship with the residents here, especially those of us from the working class and minority groups. They come across as an occupying force, attending a peaceful community meeting in large numbers and carrying arms, a display of their power and intimidation.

    One last thing. Suhr boasted about these town hall meetings whenever there is an officer involved shooting. However, I don’t recall him hosting one to answer our questions when his officers unloaded their weapons a few weeks ago at 26th and Florida, endangering civilian bystanders and shooting each other.

  4. 24-24

    How could they do that to Rigoberto Hernandez?

    • 24-24

      I mean who doesn’t want to be forced to hear his house party?

      • Orddu

        Yeah. I gotta say this sentence ” his usually acceptable house parties have garnered surprising new complaints.” made me roll my eyes. Waking people up and/or keeping them awake isn’t cool. no matter how long you’ve been here. Sleep is healthy. Sleep is needed. Restfull atmospheres shouldn’t be reserved for the wealthier parts of town. We all need it. There’s this idea that it’s the newcomers that call the police when the party goes on but that’s incorrect. I’ve lived here for 21 years. If you’re having a loud party and you don’t respond well- or at all- to my request to kick it down a notch, I’m going to ask to police to repeat my request.

        • John

          Roberto is way too old to be having “house parties”.

          Some people just never grow up.

          This piece of card-playing is disgusting:

          “The race and class dimension of young, Latino male killed in a gentrifying neighborhood ran throughout many of the comments.”

          Yuk. Why do some people reduce everything to identity politics?

  5. pete

    “These calls are reminders that there are new people here that love our culture in the Mission…but they can’t deal with the people that are already here.”
    News flash Hernandez: if your party is that loud that late that people feel the need to call the cops…you’re the asshole.

    • Albert

      Ignorance is blisd

      • 13 years in Mission

        laughing about loving the culture here…..the dirt, the drunks, the shuttered store fronts , 20+ people living in an apartment or home?

        How about it’s where some of the affordable housing has been because everything was so run down….fortunately the retail is finally catching up and some of those abandoned and long vacant store fronts are interesting stores, restaurants etc.

        I’m browner than many people believe with latine grandparents who came with nothing…they would be horrified by the Mission and how many of these families live/raise their kids.

  6. SF-Philly

    Nieto was a violent lunatic. Stop making him out to be a peace loving Buddhist who was just meditating peacefully in the park. Several nieghbors called the police which is the reason they came to confront Neito. Now why would multiple neighbors call to report a peaceful meditator? The guy had confronted people in the park earlier and was screaming obscenities. He had a history of documented violence, a restraining order against him, and was found with handcuffs and a taser on him. How many peaceful Buddhists can claim those things? He got what he deserved and the neighborhood is now a safer place for it.

    • Chris

      There are 2 sides to every story and, unfortunately, Nieto won’t get a chance to tell his.

      The neighbors who called the police could have started the altercation and called the police when he wouldn’t back down. Nieto might have felt threatened by them, in Florida he could have killed them and been freed under “stand your ground”.

      The guy who had a restraining order against him had previously attached Nieto and Nieto had taken out a restraining order against him.

      It’s legal for people to have tasers and handcuffs in California, regardless of a person’s religion.

      Unless you were a witness to any or all of these actions, you’ve no idea if what has been reported is true. Nor do I.

      What we do know is that Nieto is dead. The police may or may not have been justified in their actions, we’ll never know the whole truth.

  7. John

    ” shouts of “pig,” “liar,” and “murderers,” echoed through the room”.

    In other words, it didn’t matter what Suhr said. The crowd was so biased that they were always going to act out like that.

    As such, these meetings are a waste of time. Why reach out to these people? The only folks who ever show up at these meetings are the cop-haters.

    Screw them.

    • Orddu

      In fairness, Nieto’s Dad was at this meeting. There isn’t any indication that he hates the cops, nor that he yelled “pig” or displayed anything other than grief. I got sidetracked by Hernandez’s “I can’t have loud house parties plaint”, but I gotta say, I feel so incredibly bad and sorrowful for his friends and family. I also wonder why Taser gun manufactures cannot make a Taser gun that is demonstrably different from a gun. Make it white! Or glow in the dark! Something!
      I looked at the exhibit and there’s no way I’d be able to tell if it was a gun.

      • John

        His family deserve respect and sympathy. My comments were at the 95% of the attendees who were the “usual suspect” agitators who show up at every protest.

        I wonder how many of them do not live in Bernal Heights.

        to your other point, a taser does have markings to distinguish it from a firearm. However that is very hard to see from 75 feet away, or at night, or in any situation where a split second delay can be a cop.

        Almost exactly five yea rs ago, four cops in Oakland were shot dead by a felon. The risks are apparent and most reasonable people support the police action here.

        • mel

          No they do not. By all accounts, I am a “reasonable” person, professional, white woman, living in Bernal, and I, along with all my friends, am appalled by this police action.

  8. Pamela

    Neighbors who were at the meeting stayed as long as they could. However, they were constantly insulted, especially when asked where they live – Bernal Heights. The attendees, most seemed to come from the Mission District, complained about SFPD, gentrification, the Mission isn’t the same anymore, & of course, played the race card. Campos was no better with this theme, which was no surprise. Reading this article & the comments pretty much confirm what they had told me about the meeting. It seems like it ended up being a waste of time.

    • John

      After four hours of public comment, I think I’d be ready to pull a taser on someone.

      The problem isn’t gentrification. It’s not enough gentrification.

    • Sf boy

      I stayed until 9 PM. I regret leaving early because I missed the revelation of the shameful treatment of the victim’s family by the police department.

      That said, during the time I was there, only one member of the general public drew the ire of the angry crowd when he raised the untrue specter of a “rising crime rate” in order to defend the actions of the police. Like everyone else, he deserved his opportunity to speak, and the reaction from some to his statement was unfortunate, even if understandable.

      So, unless things changed dramatically after I left, you are exaggerating with your claim of constant insults. Bernal Hill Park belongs to everybody and theoretically the SFPD work for all of us so where attendees live is unimportant.

      Only deluded, indoctrinated or naive people believe that race plays no role in our society and how we treat each other. Racism remains strong and is unfortunately one of the bedrocks of American culture, even in relatively tolerant San Francisco.

      • John

        Except that there is zero evidence that race was any kind of factor here.

        That was simply the biased crowd trying to play a card.

        Your anecdote that the only person who complained about crime and spoke up for the police was booed just goes to show what a partisan crowd this was.

        A self-selected crowd like thus has no legitimacy. I’m surprised Suhr even bothered.

        • Saint Lenny

          We all know which card you’re talking about, that insipid “I grew up in this neighborhood” card, or the even worse “my family has lived here for 3 generations” card.

          This crowd was partisan, due to a vast conspiracy by the Democratic Party to illegitimately control tiny sections of a city that has been voting over 75% for Dems every Presidential election for 30-45 years anyway.

          Self-selection in voluntarily attending a public forum with a city official by these biased partisans was really just “local taxpayers and residents of the area concerned over national trends of police using excessive force occurring in their own neighborhood, recently killing an innocent man without trial”, which clearly shows how liberty and democracy are destroying our society. I’m surprised Suhr didn’t just shoot these uppity dissidents.

    • Saint Lenny

      Community dialogue and openness in government are terrible wastes of time, much better to foment an unaccountable police state until the situation erupts into actual riots, as world history has repeatedly demonstrated it does.

      The coded racialized classism implicit in your use of “neighbors” vs. “attendees” who “seemed to come from the Mission district” is only trumped by the overt racism of trivializing community concern over the wrongful execution without trial of a young Latino man from that same community by police.

      GTFO, bigot.

      • John

        It’s fairly well known that such meetings and protests get invaded by “outside agitators” from other neighborhoods and cities, giving a very distorted outcome.

        Public meetings are highly unreliable guides to what most people think, because the attendance is skewed towards the kind of people who typically show up – a much more extremist element than the norm.

        Thankfully we do not such public meetings as a policy-making or decision-making way, but rather as an exercise in catharsis for those who need to let off steam.

        I don’t see race as a factor here at all, but there are always those who seek to play a card in almost any situation. Best to discount that.

        • SF boy

          I attended the meeting. I didn’t know everyone. I saw many neighborhood folks, either than I know personally or recognized from my many years here.

          I think it likely that the percentage of the attendees that live in SF and particularly the Mission/Bernal area was much higher than the percentage of SFPD personnel there that live in SF.

          Outside agitators? I haven’t heard that in years.

          Nothing beats the analysis of a keyboard expert who wasn’t at the meeting.

          • John

            Pamela was at the meeting and it was her comments that I was interpreting.

            The Mission and Bernal Heights are different, distinct neighborhoods with different police precincts. So there is no reason for someone in the Mission to attend a meeting about BH. Yet Pamela said there were many that she recognized.

            At many protests, many of those arrested are not from SF.

            Public meetings are terrible indicators of what the average person thinks.

          • SF boy

            You should reread Pamela’s comment. Nothing in it indicates that she was there. Maybe, but I think she’s basing her analysis on comments from Bernalwood blog and hearsay reports. In fact, she writes, “Reading this article & the comments pretty much confirm what they had told me about the meeting. It seems like it ended up being a waste of time,” which implies that she wasn’t there.

            Bernal Hill Park is open to everybody. Many Mission residents, including my family, use it.

            Are you ready to restrict property ownership in San Francisco to San Francisco residents only?

          • John

            Anyone should be able to buy SF property regardless of where they live. I’m not sure why that is relevant here.

            Anyway, the kind of people who show up at a meeting like this are not representative of the community. They are representative only of the kind of people who attend a meeting like thus, and are typically much more left-wing and anti-police than my friends and neighbors in the neighborhood.

        • mel

          Stop mischaracterizing a meeting that you did not even attend, with such poorly reasoned, poorly written slurs.

          • John

            ML categorized the meeting as follows: “Suhr had to pause throughout his brief presentation as shouts of “pig,” “liar,” and “murderers,”

            Since nobody I have come across is thinking like that at all, and they all fully support the police response, it is clear to me that the people showing up at a meeting like this were not representative of the community, but rather represents extremists and agitators. They came to shout and not to listen and learn.

            The death is a tragedy, but it has been hijacked by a small fringe group for ideological purposes.

  9. herpityderp

    Well, rest assured, ANSWER will make the outrage of the week irrelevant as soon as it touches it. Sympathy to the family. Hope they get the peace they deserve.

  10. Saint Lenny

    Some of us remember when Bernal Heights was primarily a geographical feature seamlessly integrated with adjacent neighborhoods at the northern border between the Inner & Outer Mission demarcated by Cesar Chavez/Army.

    That time was called early 2008.

    Bigots are the one breed of person that have consistently been weeded out of this boomtown’s culture over its history, particularly during busts.

    What makes the current wave of invading prospectors distinct, however, is a ubiquitous classism that frequently exacerbates racial biases, adding insult to the injury of rapid mass displacement happening to multiple generations of natives across the entire region. Anecdotal personal experiences of meritocratic advancement are overgeneralized by many, obscuring an age of income inequality objectively unprecedented in the US since the late 19th/early 20th century.

    Cannot wait for this bubble to burst, and see another 600k person exodus as in 2001.

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