Opening Day of Slain Student’s Civil Trial

Supporters listen to a rally speaker at the at the Justice for Alex Nieto Walkout on Tues. March 1, 2016. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones / The Guradsman)March 1, 2016.
Supporters listen to a rally speaker at the at the Justice for Alex Nieto Walkout on Tues. March 1, 2016. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones / The Guradsman)March 1, 2016.

JUSTICE FOR ALEX NIETO

By Marco Siler-Gonzales

The parents of Alex Nieto finally had their day in federal court for their son, a City College student who was shot and killed by San Francisco Police officers in Bernal Heights Park nearly two years ago.

On the opening day of trial on March 1, Judge Magistrate Nathanael M. Cousins whittled a juror pool of 30 down to eight. Five women and three men, none Black or Latino, will decide whether Nieto’s civil rights were abused, and if Nieto’s family deserve monetary reparation for his death.

The prosecution, led by civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, are pressing civil right charges against the City and County of San Francisco for the four officer’s transgression against Alex Nieto that resulted in his death on March 21, 2014. The four officers—Lt. Jason Sawyer and Officer’s Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew, are all charged with excessive force, violation of Nieto’s civil rights and wrongful death under California law.

Two Sides of a Story

The prosecution and defense both focused their opening statements on the 45 seconds that Nieto faced the officers on Bernal Hill at 7:18 p.m.

At 7:11 p.m., a passerby called the police after seeing Nieto in the park acting strangely—and believed his holstered taser was a gun. Upon approach, dispatch alerted the officers that a Latino male, wearing red, was seen with a gun atop Bernal Heights park.

The defense, led by Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner, alleged justification for the officer’s decision to draw their sidearms and fire upon Nieto. Nieto refused one officer’s request to show his hands, the officers reported, then he allegedly drew and aimed his laser-sighted Taser at the officers.


“There is no one to corroborate the police’s story.”

—Civil Rights Attorney Adante Pointer


The officers feared the weapon’s accurate laser sight and had no choice but to fire at Nieto, alleged the defense.  After firing 59 shots, they approached Nieto’s body and realized the weapon was an electric stun gun, not a more-lethal gun.

“The officers kept firing because the man kept aiming at them,” Baumgartner said. “These officers did what they were trained to do.”

Pointer’s opening argument for the prosecution set up a contradictory narrative. The sole eyewitness to the shooting alleged that the officers yelled just once, “Stop!” before firing at Nieto. Only five seconds passed between Lt. Sawyer’s radio call—that he found the suspect—and shots ringing out.

The eyewitness reported that Nieto’s hands did not leave his jacket pockets when he was shot down by the four officers, contradicting the allegation that Nieto pointed his weapon anywhere. “There is no one to corroborate the police’s story,” Pointer said.

The jury’s decision will hinge on what Nieto did or didn’t do with his Taser and if the officers had justifiable cause to shoot.  Whether Nieto actually fired his Taser at police; if he continued to aim at the officers after a barrage of bullets were fired; and whether any evidence was mishandled.

The trial is expected to last a week and a half. The jury’s verdict will rest on their interpretation of the evidence presented and witness testimony, likely to be questioned for credibility by both sides of the court.

Nieto is not here to tell his side of the story.


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Send an email to: Marco Siler-Gonzales or tweet mijo_marco