A crowd gathers to remember the death of Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill.

On the longest, darkest night of the year, the Committee for Justice for Alex Nieto, a group that has organized frequent actions since the 28-year-old was killed by San Francisco Police officers in March, will hold a procession Sunday to commemorate the nine month anniversary of the officer-involved death.

For artist and activist Adriana Camarena, the night of the Solstice is an especially fitting time to mark the tragic anniversary.

“It’s the longest night of the year, which is very symbolic, given that facts of his shooting have been hidden from public scrutiny for so long,” said Camarena.

Since Nieto’s death, the District Attorney’s Office, the Office of Civilian Complaint, and the police’s internal investigation unit have all been investigating Nieto’s death. No findings have yet to be made public.

Additionally, the family has filed for a federal criminal investigation and a civil case against the city and police force. Most recently, the civil case had a pretrial hearing in November, but to the dismay of the family and the objections of its legal team, one key fact about Nieto’s death remains unknown: the names of the officers involved.

The police department has maintained that they’ve withheld the officers names because of a threat of violence called into one of the city’s station following the incident.

“The names of the officers have been withheld due to the fact there was specified threats against the officers involved in this shooting,” wrote police spokesperson Officer Albie Esparza in an email to Mission Local. “As you know, we have released the names of all officers involved in previous shootings.”

Officer Esparza said  that the police know the identity of the person who made the threats, but this suspect remains at large. Due to the fact that it is an ongoing investigation, Esparza couldn’t share additional details about the nature threats.

In a discovery phase pre-trial hearing presided over by U.S. District Judge Nathaneal Cousins, in which both sides of the case presented their evidence, the City Attorney’s disclosure statement only referred to the officers involved in the shooting by fictitious name. It listed four officer whose guns were fired, eight who were present, and 20 others who responded in some other way.

The City had originally filed for a heightened protective order, a measure that protects information related to “patents, highly sensitive confidential information and/or trade secrets” from being included in the public record. Judge Cousins rejected this request, saying in a court order that it “takes these concerns seriously, but must balance them against the need for public transparency.”

On Monday, the two sides will meet again and the City Attorney will present evidence as to why the threats to officers are credible and justify keeping their names confidential.

The Nieto family’s attorney, Adante Pointer argues that the city’s claims are overblown. In a letter to the court addressing the discovery dispute, he writes:

“[We] are informed that all threats were made by phone during long-winded rants from a single person well known to the police by a person not even in this country… [we’re] unwilling to concede the individual shooting Officers should remain nameless, blameless and beyond reproach.”

Margaret Baumgartner from the City Attorney’s Office asserts that the threats on the police officers justify keeping the names confidential. The city argues that if the names remain “Attorney only” information, it doesn’t hinder the Nieto family’s case.

But for those family and friends seeking more clarity into how the 28-year-old security officer was killed, knowing the names matter because it suggests a willingness on the part of the city to hold those officers involved accountable.

“You have to have a very good reason to hide names,” said Camarena. “These are public officers, public servants. Their names need to be known.”

The latest updates in the civil suit by the Nieto family comes at a moment when much public comment is blossoming in response to the police violence across the nation. However, city politicians have not made any official action about the recent local violence.

A proposed non-binding resolution sponsored by Supervisor John Avalos called for more investigation into racial bias in San Francisco’s Police Department failed this week. It specifically called into question SFPD’s actions leading up to Nieto’s death and criticized the secrecy surrounding the officers’ names.

The resolution failed after a strongly-worded letter from Martin Halloran president of the Police Offices Association urged the Board not to pass it. The letter is published in full in the San Francisco Examiner.

The contentiousness of the issues surround Nieto’s death can be felt outside the courtroom and City Hall as well. The altar set up at the spot on Bernal Hill where Nieto died has been repeatedly removed by a neighbor seemingly unhappy with the sentiment it represents.

“Whenever Alex’s name is in public eye, the altar tends to be vandalized,” said Camarena, who has repeatedly helped Nieto’s parents Elvira and Refugio Nieto rebuild the altar for their son. “It is suspicious that whenever Alex Nieto is highlighted this act of retaliation has been put on his memorial.”

With these issues and conflicts in mind, family and friends of Nieto, as well as activist concerned with police overreach, will process through the streets of the Mission Sunday evening starting at Mission and 24th Street. Parents of other victims of police violence will also attend. Following the memorial, there will be a traditional Mexican Posada. For detailed information visit the event’s Facebook page.

Published on: Dec 20, 2014 @ 10:00

Follow Us

Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

Leave a comment

Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *