Adante Pointer, the Nieto family's attorney, speaking at a press conference outside the courthouse after the verdict. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

See Mission Local’s full coverage of the Alex Nieto shooting here.

An eight-person jury unanimously decided on Thursday that the four San Francisco police officers who shot and killed 28-year-old Alex Nieto at Bernal Heights Park in March 2014 did not use excessive force.

The verdict ends an eight-day federal civil case brought by Nieto’s parents seeking unspecified damages for civil rights violations. Officers fired at least 48 shots — and 59 according to Nieto’s lawyers — that day in Bernal Heights Park after Nieto aimed what they took to be a pistol at them but later realized was a taser, they testified during the trial. Nieto carried a taser for his work as a security officer. 

The jury deliberated for roughly eight hours over two days before arriving at their verdict.

All four officers shook hands and hugged their attorneys after the decision was read in court on Thursday afternoon. The city was facing possibly millions of dollars in damages to the Nieto family.

The case hinged on whether officers acted reasonably in firing at Neito, who walked toward them and drew a taser they mistook for a gun, they testified. Their testimony was confirmed by a recording of three trigger-pulls on Nieto’s taser at the time of the shooting, though that data was challenged in court.

The prosecution offered one witness, Antonio Theodore, who said Nieto had his hands in his pocket when he was shot. However, on cross-examination, Theodore said he is an alcoholic and admitted trouble recalling specific details.

Advocates for Nieto, who have staged multiple protests city-wide in the two years since his shooting, were saddened and outraged at the verdict.

Ely Flores, who said he was Nieto’s best friend for the eight years before his death, cried “Shit!” and banged his fists against the wall of a courthouse hallway, sobbing over a trashcan.

Nieto’s parents were quickly ushered out of the courthouse and did not take any questions, but some supporters blamed the verdict on racial discrimination in the justice system

Fielding questions from the press outside the courthouse, Margaret Baumgartner, the deputy city attorney representing the officers, was interrupted multiple times by Charles Pitts, who has been a regular attendant at the trial. He said the justice system regularly mistreats black and brown people.

“You never answer the public’s questions, you always turn your back to us,” he said. “They just kill us [black and brown people] off and the white people think it’s okay all the time. When do you get justice?”

Another woman said Baumgartner should be ashamed of herself as she walked into the rain. Others shouted “Don’t shoot us just because we’re Mexican!” while reporters scrambled to speak to attorneys on both sides.

Flores, Nieto’s friend, said he was concerned with the racial make-up of the jury from the moment he saw them. Of the eight jurors, six were women, two men, and none Latino or black.

“I felt from the first day this would happen,” he said. “Look at their faces, there is no justice between blacks and whites.”

Oscar Salinas, a member of the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition, spoke on behalf of Nieto’s parents and said they were “devastated” by the verdict. He called attention to other police shootings in San Francisco and said he considered the trial a victory because it made public facts about the shooting and united minority communities.

“This has united the black community and the brown community,” he said. “The Bayview community is hurting right now with Mario Woods, the Mission community is grieving with this decision with Alex Nieto. The fight isn’t over, it’s just begun.”

— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) March 10, 2016

After the heated press conference outside the courthouse, Baumgartner held another at city hall two blocks away, saying she sympathized with the Nieto family but believed the four officers used reasonable force when confronting Nieto.

“It’s tragic to lose a child, and I very much feel for the family, however I do not think that the officers violated the constitution when they used lethal force against Mr. Nieto on this particular day,” she said.

She also dismissed concerns that the jury pool was not diverse, saying “we do not pick jurors based on race.”

Addressing Nieto’s mental health, Baumgartner said testimony excluded from the trial would have shown his behavior to be consistent with a diagnosis of a schizophrenic. 

“It is consistent with that mental health diagnosis to perceive even police officers to be someone who might be after him,” she said.

Adante Pointer, the lawyer for Nieto’s parents, said that he is considering all legal options — including a possible appeal — but spoke mostly to the difficulty of convincing eight strangers to believe any one narrative.

“It’s pretty tough to convince a child that there’s no Santa Claus, and apparently it’s the same for this jury,” he said.

The case involved six days of arguments, witness testimony, and physical evidence. Because the trial was civil, jurors were instructed by Judge Nathanael Cousins to decide whether the plaintiff’s version was “more probably true than not true,” rather than finding the officers guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal trial.

One female juror said “it was a very difficult case” as she was leaving the courthouse. She said there was no key piece of evidence that swayed the group’s opinion and that the jury used all the available evidence in their deliberations.

“We did the best we could with the facts we had,” she said. “We took it all under consideration.”

Outside the courthouse on Thursday, Pointer, who is also involved in the case of Mario Woods, said the loss in the Nieto case was indicative of systemic racial issues in San Francisco.

“It’s a sad day for the Nietos, but it’s also a sad day for the city of San Francisco,” he said.

Family and friends of Nieto will be meeting at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts at 6 p.m. tonight, where they are expected to speak more about the trial.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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Joe was born in Sweden, where half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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