By Marco Siler-Gonzales/ Editor-in-Chief
Alex Nieto, previous City College student and full time security guard, was shot 48 times by San Francisco Police before he was presumed dead, face down in Bernal Heights on March 21, 2014.
A new movie written and directed by a City College English teacher raises legitimate contradictory evidence to that of the San Francisco Police Department’s (SFPD) story leading to Nieto’s death.
City College English professor Benjamin Bac Sierra released “Lowrider Lawyers: Putting a City on Trial” on Jan. 3 at the Brava Theatre in the Mission district. Dressed in swanky attire and riding in the freshest lowrider, a team of lawyers from the barrio takes the city to trial in order to prove the SFPD’s wrongful use of force when four officers shot Nieto down.
What may surprise you is the depth of detail that Bac Sierra weaves through in each eyewitness testimony and Lowrider Lawyer examination. The witness testimonies in the movie are based entirely on real eyewitness accounts from court depositions that were subsequently left out in the district attorney’s and SFPD’s report in the events leading to Nieto’s death.
“In this film, we flip the script,” Bac Sierra said at the movie premiere.
The Official Story
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon cleared the four officers of criminal charges in the shooting of Nieto on Feb. 13, 2015. “Given the circumstances, I’m not sure this was a preventable shooting,” Gascon said in a news conference regarding Nieto’s death.
Lowrider lawyers would argue Nieto’s death was entirely preventable. Witnesses described Nieto as acting erratically, showing what appeared to be a gun on his belt according to the official version.
The cops were called when Nieto reportedly threatened to shoot a dog. When police arrived, Nieto allegedly aimed his Taser at them, which the officers mistook as a gun. The officers proceeded to shoot at Nieto 48 times, striking him 14 times.
This was the story reported by the DA’s office and SFPD, then amplified by local news.
However, the deposition brought down by the law office of John L. Burris reports that eyewitness Antonio Theodore stood 20 feet away from the incident with the same vantage point as the officers. Theodore testified that Nieto still had his hands in his pockets when the officers began to fire.
The officers claimed that they had told Nieto to show his hands, to which Nieto allegedly retorted, “Show me your hands!” Theodore testified that the officers never gave Nieto warning before firing other than saying, “Stop!” to which Nieto did not respond.
After a series of shots were fired by the police, the officers said Nieto strategically entered a prone position to make himself a smaller target and continued to fire his weapon at the officers. On the contrary, Theodore testified that Nieto fell to his knees after the first volley of bullets were fired and appeared mortally wounded, and then fell face down with his hands still in his pocket, to which the police continued to fire at Nieto.
“The abstract goal for this film is to smash stereotypes,” Bac Sierra said.
In the official version, three independent witnesses testified that Nieto was behaving erratically and drew a weapon at a dog being walked on Bernal Hill. However, the deposition uncovers conflicting versions in the witnesses’ testimonies.
One witness, in the film as “Mr. Wolf,” testified that he was checking out a female jogger when his dog, a Siberian husky, approached Nieto for his burrito. Wolf admitted he made a snap judgment about Nieto based on his San Francisco 49er’s apparel, believing he was a Mexican gangster that he didn’t want to mess with.
The husky was off-leash and it’s owner testified knowing his dog to act aggressively for food as it did with Nieto’s. The witness said Nieto jumped on a bench and pointed a weapon at the husky, but he saw immediately that Nieto had a Taser.
An officer who shot Nieto testified that he saw muzzle flashes and smoke emitting from Nieto’s weapon which led him to believe it was a pistol. Testimonies from the Taser company confirmed that Tasers do not emit muzzle flashes nor smoke like a pistol when fired.
Unfortunately, Nieto’s case is not unique. SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee have come under heavy criticism for what many are calling a culture of biased policing against black and brown communities in San Francisco.
Bac Sierra said his film provides a colorful answer to the injustice that has transpired against Nieto and his family.
“This film is critical but also entertaining and comical,” Bac Sierra said. “The answer is unity, creativity, dancing tg and art.”
The Lowrider Lawyer’s call for justice has not gone unheard. The city’s movement for summary judgement in Nieto’s case, which would grant the officer’s story is true; has been denied by a federal judge. Nieto’s case will go to civil court in early March.
“The city tried to bury us,” Bac Sierra said at the premiere, “but they did not know that we are seeds, and we sprout from the dirt.”
“Lowrider Lawyers: Putting a City on Trial” is now available to stream at Youtube.com and will premiere in the Multi-Use Building Auditorium on Febuary 1 from 12–1 p.m.
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Send an email to: Marco Siler-Gonzales