Traduccion en español aquí.
A city investigation has found that a San Francisco police officer involved in the fatal shooting of Alex Nieto made inappropriate comments on social media in reference to the deceased and may face disciplinary action.
The Office of Citizens Complaints found that Roger Morse, one of the police officers who shot and killed Nieto in 2014, acted inappropriately when he commented on a news story posted on Facebook in reference to the slain man.
On March 10, hours after a jury cleared Morse and three other officers of using excessive force in the March 2014 shooting that killed 28-year-old Nieto – a security guard who was armed with a taser when police confronted him on top of Bernal Hill – Morse took to Facebook to express his views in response to a news story about the verdict.
The story showed a picture of Nieto smiling, to which Morse commented: “Smiling. Ugh how about burning down his house and tazing his friend who pressed charges.”
The comment likely referred to an incident in which Nieto allegedly torched a book inside his own home and tazed a childhood friend, as documented in a February 2015 report by the District Attorney investigating the shooting. But community members and the victim’s family called the content and timing of Morse’s comment highly inappropriate.
The Office of Citizens Complaints agreed.
“The allegation of conduct reflecting discredit on the department against a police officer for behaving inappropriately or and making making inappropriate comments is sustained,” read a letter sent by Joyce Hicks, the executive director of the office, and posted to Facebook by Benjamin Bac Sierra, a principal advocate for Nieto.
The complaint has been transmitted to San Francisco’s police chief for review.
“This is right after the news that Nieto’s parents received,” said Oscar Salinas, an activist with the Amor for Alex Coalition, in reference to the conclusion of a week-long civil trial that exonerated the officers of wrongdoing.
Anger over the comment prompted Father Richard Smith, vicar at Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist at 15th and Julian streets and an activist for police accountability, to file an official complaint with the agency immediately after the trial.
“They need to take into account the context,” said Smith about Morse’s ongoing investigation by the agency. “I sat with the Nietos in the hallways outside the courtroom when the medical examiner was showing photographs of Alex’s body mutilated by bullets. I know how traumatized they were – this [comment] opened up an old wound for them and many of us in the community.”
On December 6, the agency, tasked with overseeing police misconduct and civilian complaints against officers, agreed with the complaint that Smith had filed nine months earlier.
Smith, who has been in contact with the investigator on the case, said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that disciplinary action will be taken against Morse.
The coalition and Nieto’s parents failed to get the District Attorney’s office to file criminal charges against the officers and in March of this year lost a civil lawsuit against the officers. The post appeared on the day the trial ended.
“Somebody in the community took a quick snapshot of [the Facebook comment] and it spread like wildfire,” said Salinas. He said of group of Nieto supporters was notified of the post at a debriefing meeting held at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts the night after the civil trial end.
“It’s a shame it didn’t come out sooner because it would have revealed to jury what kind of person we are dealing with – [an officer] who lacks basic compassion as a human being,” said Smith.
Still, as the police department is in the midst of major reforms, Smith said that the agency’s response to his complaint is a step in the right direction in ensuring police accountability to the public. “I’m beginning to see a thaw in the system.”
Smith said that he was informed that pending review by Interim Police Chief Toney Chaplin, the complaint will move in front of the Police Commission, a seven-member civilian panel that acts as the police department’s disciplinary body.
Salinas said that giving credence and resolve to the community’s complaints against officers is the agency’s job, and that pressure in the wake of recent police shootings may have moved the agency to take action against Morse. On Tuesday, the city also approved a memorial for Nieto, which activists have long been advocating for.
“Between the Alex Nieto movement and all other coalitions, including the Frisco Five that really put pressure on the city and a huge spotlight on the OCC, we are hoping that now they have cleared their minds and are saying, ‘You know what, there’s something wrong here,” he said.