The San Francisco Police Department is investigating a Facebook post allegedly written by one of the four San Francisco police officers who shot and killed 28-year-old Alex Nieto at Bernal Heights Park in March 2014.
Just six hours after a jury cleared Roger Morse and his three companions of using excessive force in the shooting death of Neito on March 21, 2014, a post from a Facebook profile with Morse’s picture commented on a news story about the verdict.
— Kenny (@KentaviousPrime) March 11, 2016
“Smiling. Ugh how about burning down his house and tazing his friend who pressed charges,” the post read, under a link to a news story from ABC 7 announcing the verdict.
The comment appeared to refer to the District Attorney’s report from February 2015 investigating the Nieto shooting to determine whether to press criminal charges against the officers. That report indicated that Nieto had previously torched a book in his house and assaulted a friend with a taser in front of that friend’s wife and child.
That evidence was dismissed from the civil trial earlier this month because the judge decided it had no bearing on whether officers acted appropriately during their encounter with Nieto.
The Facebook comment, however, led some to interpret the post as a threat against Nieto’s parents and was enough to prompt a police investigation.
“We’re looking into it,” said Albie Esparza, a spokesperson with the police department. Esparza said the police were investigating whether any department rules were violated but that “if officers posted those comments, it would be inappropriate given the pain the family is experiencing.”
Morse could not be reached for confirmation or clarification on the comment. The Facebook profile that made the comment features his photo but has been made private since the post.
Advocates for the Nieto family immediately alleged wrongdoing.
Benjamin Bac Sierra, one of the main advocates for Nieto and a daily presence at the trial earlier this month, said he viewed the comment as a threat.
“We are demanding a full investigation of this matter,” he said. “We will be organizing a rally to demand justice on this matter.”
Esparza said the comments refer to “past events that were written about Mr. Nieto,” but said that they would be inappropriate nonetheless.
Nieto was shot and killed two years ago after officers responded to a 911 call from Bernal Heights Park of a man with a gun and encountered Nieto armed with a taser they mistook for a pistol, which they said he drew and aimed. Nieto carried a taser for his work as a security guard.
The civil trial against the officers lasted eight days earlier this month in federal court before a jury cleared all four officers of the excessive force charge against them.
Morse was one of two officers who arrived on the scene after the shooting had begun. He testified earlier this month that he shot at Nieto as he was on the ground because Nieto was aiming what he took to be a pistol from a prone position.
The reference to the District Attorney’s letter was little comfort to Adante Pointer, the lawyer who represented Nieto’s parents in the civil trial against the four officers.
He said the comment was “reflective of the culture that’s within the [police department], that an officer would feel comfortable enough thumbing his nose in the face of two grieving parents.”
“The fact that it’s up for discussion [whether] it’s a threat or just tasteless means it’s still too close to any line,” he added.
Adriana Camarena, another advocate for Nieto, said that his parents are “concerned” about the post, though they do not use Facebook and only learned about it from others. Bac Sierra said the parents are “devastated” and worried about what they took to be a threat.