See Mission Local’s full coverage of the Alex Nieto shooting here.
Attorneys for the parents of Alex Nieto fought hard on Monday to cast doubt on the testimony of an expert witness from Taser International who told the court that Nieto pulled the trigger on his taser three times around the moment he was shot and killed by four San Francisco police officers.
Nieto carried a taser for his work as a security guard, and officers testified last week that they fired only after Nieto drew and aimed his taser at them on March 21, 2014 in Bernal Heights Park. Officers testified that they mistook the black taser for a pistol and fired in self-defense.
The four officers involved are now facing a civil suit from Nieto’s family, who seek unspecified damages for the alleged wrongful death of their son and civil rights violations.
Bryan Chiles, a technician with the stun gun company, testified that timestamps indicating when the taser was fired matched the time of the incident — once adjusted by four and a half minutes to account for “clock drift,” the tendency of clocks to speed up or slow down from “actual time.”
The Nieto family’s attorney implied that Chiles manipulated time data on Nieto’s taser to protect a contentious $2.4 million deal between the city and Taser International, which is slated to provide body cameras to the police.
“You do know that Taser is in line to make a multi-million dollar contract with the City and County of San Francisco, correct?” asked Adante Pointer, who is representing Nieto’s parents for the Law Offices of John Burris, a well-known civil rights firm. The suggestion drew murmurs and jeers from observers in the court.
Margaret Baumgartner, a deputy city attorney representing the four officers involved, objected, saying the question was outside the scope of Chiles’s expertise. Pointer was forced to rephrase the question twice before Chiles said he knew nothing of the contract.
The District Attorney’s Office announced in February 2015 that it would not bring criminal charges against the officers, in part because data from Taser International indicating Nieto had fired his device at the time of the incident.
The normal drift for Nieto’s particular taser model was not known when Taser International began its analysis, Chiles testified.
“It bothered me that I could not calculate clock drift [for this model],” he said. “I study clock drift every day and with the M26 [taser], I can’t.”
After receiving Nieto’s taser, Chiles studied ten tasers similar to it and figured out the average drift time per day, he said. He then used that data to calculate the total drift on the day of the shooting: 4 minutes and 29 seconds.
That correction matched the three trigger-pulls to within seconds of the shooting, according to police radio traffic from that day.
Pointer attacked Chiles’s study, saying that it is unpublished, has not been peer-reviewed, and made use of a small sample size.
Pointer also showed pictures of Nieto’s taser immediately after the shooting in which the safety switch of the stun gun is on — which would have stopped it from firing.
Outside the courthouse Monday, Baumgartner admitted “we don’t actually know the specific reason” for the safety being on, but said it could have occurred when an officer kicked it out of Nieto’s hand, or that Nieto himself could have switched it after he was shot.
“I’ll just tell you that the scene doesn’t appear to be consistent with what the officers have stated,” Pointer said outside the courtroom.
Pointer introduced a witness last week who testified that Nieto had his hands pocketed when officers opened fire. Baumgartner attacked that witness’s credibility last Thursday, and the witness admitted to drinking heavily and having trouble with his memory.
On Monday, Craig Fries, a three-dimensional modeling expert paid by the city to render recreations of the shooting, denied the possibility that Nieto’s hands were pocketed during the shooting.
“The physical evidence would suggest that his hands were not in his pockets at the time,” Fries said. For Nieto to have sustained the wrist wound he did while his hands were in his pockets, Fries testified, the shooter would have had to have been right next to Nieto.
“The preponderance of [the evidence] shows that the officers’ stated locations matches the location testified to by the officers” 30 yards away from Nieto, Fries added.
Elvira Nieto, Alex Nieto’s mother, took the stand last. She was shown pictures of Nieto posing with politicians — like Bill Clinton and Tom Ammiano — from his days working on campaigns and said she was proud of her son for that work. She has trouble believing he is dead, she said through an interpreter.
“Even now I cannot believe it, my heart is not accepting it, that he is not here with me anymore,” she said, before leaving the stand and embracing her husband.
The trial is set to continue tomorrow with further examination of Nieto’s mother and testimony from expert witnesses for the defense. Closing arguments are likely to come Wednesday, after which the eight-person jury will have to reach a verdict.