See Mission Local’s full coverage of the Alex Nieto shooting here.
On the two-year anniversary of his death, advocates for Alex Nieto, a 28-year-old man shot and killed by San Francisco police at Bernal Heights Park in March 2014, are demanding an independent investigation of the shooting by the Department of Justice.
They are also requesting a litany of other changes to the San Francisco Police Department’s policy governing officer-involved shootings. Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos, who have long been involved with the Nieto coalition, both support the statement but said its legal demands would have to be ironed out.
“Some of the specific things that they’re requesting, there might be limitations on what you’re able to do,” Campos said. Avalos said he would introduce a measure at the board with language similar to the Nieto statement.
Nieto was shot and killed by four San Francisco police officers on March 21, 2014. All four officers testified earlier this month that Nieto drew and aimed a taser that they took to be a pistol, and that the four feared for their lives when they shot at him. Nieto carried a taser for his work as a security guard.
In a statement published Monday morning, advocates asked police to restructure their use of force policy to “make alternatives to lethal use of force unequivocally mandatory,” make complaints and incidents of police use-of-force open to the public, create a special office to investigate police misconduct, and require more than one medical examiner to perform autopsies on victims of police shootings. The letter also asks that the city build a memorial to Nieto on Bernal Hill where he was shot.
Campos said he was supportive of the “intent and spirit” of the statement but noted that some of the specific proposals may be vague or unworkable. A mandatory requirement to not use lethal force, Campos said, was unclear.
“I don’t know what that means, for it to be mandatory,” he said, adding that the proposal to increase transparency of the department might brush up against state law.
Juana Tello, who helped draft the statement, said it aimed to prioritize de-escalation tactics over lethal force, not require that officers be prohibited from using their weapons. She also called for evidence-gathering to be more removed from the police department.
“For us it’s important to talk about the bigger picture, that there is a better process and independent forces that are able to do their own assessment of the evidence,” she said.
Albie Esparza, the spokesperson for the police department, wrote in an email that the department is making changes to its use-of-force policy that will be reviewed by the Police Commission. He said the department does not respond to specific letters like the statement drafted by Nieto’s advocates.
The statement also asks that the Department of Justice investigate the Nieto shooting during its current review of San Francisco police practices.
The federal body was called to the city by the mayor after the shooting death of 26-year-old Mario Woods in December 2015 and has been holding “listening sessions” around the city to gauge public trust in the police force.
One such meeting held in the Mission earlier in March saw heated protests by advocates of Woods, who say that the Department of Justice review is toothless.
Some of the advocates’ demands stem from a belief that the police covered up Nieto’s shooting. At a rally held hours after a jury cleared all four involved officers of using excessive force in Nieto’s death earlier in March, advocates said that the city participated in a “sham.”
At issue are several pieces of physical evidence, including a bone fragment found in Nieto’s pocket that advocates say proves he had his hands pocketed when he was shot. A three-dimensional modeling expert testified at trial that the bone could have gotten into Nieto’s pocket in a variety of ways, and his company, Precision Simulations, is also called out in the statement for investigation.
A technician from Taser International testified at the trial that data downloaded from Nieto’s taser showed three trigger-pulls matching the time of the shooting. Because that data was contested by lawyers for Nieto’s family during the trial, the letter published Monday also asks for an investigation of Taser International.
Supervisor Campos said that while he respects the legal process of evidence-gathering from the trial, he thinks reinvestigation of the city agencies and private companies involved is warranted given long-standing issues of distrust between the Mission District community and the police.
“Even if the police officer does everything right, it’s not enough for the community to hear from the department saying, ‘Trust us,’” he said. “You actually have to see the evidence of what happened.”
Advocates for Nieto will hold a rally on Monday night at 6 p.m. at the Mission Cultural Center, where they will present the statement alongside spoken word, music, and religious performances.