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UncategorizedListening to the death of Alejandro Nieto – and...

Listening to the death of Alejandro Nieto – and what an audio recording of the shooting suggests

Alex Nieto via Amitis Motevall, via Bernalwood


By Tim Redmond

APRIL 23, 2014 — I just listened to a recording of the death of Alejandro Nieto, the young man shot and killed by San Francisco police on Bernal Hill March 21. It’s chilling.

The police haven’t released their own incident reports, and you can’t tell from the 911 tapes exactly how many shots were fired. But one of my neighbors in Bernal has a security camera that records both audio and video, and it was running that evening, and he lives close enough to the park that he was able to get the sounds of the gunshots.

A lot of gunshots.

My neighbor shared the recording with me. It’s a bit hard to make out (and I promised him I wouldn’t post the raw footage, because he wants to protect his identity and the video would show where he lives), but a couple of things are clear – and they raise important questions about the shooting.

On the tape, you can clearly hear two shots … then a few seconds pause. Then you hear about 13 or 14 more shots, in a fast volley.

I spoke to Adante Pointer, attorney for Nieto’s family, and he confirmed that he has also heard a similar recording.

What’s it mean? Let’s start.

First, nobody at this point has any direct eyewitnesses who saw the shooting. And the cops aren’t talking. (In fact, Chief Greg Suhr could help community relations immensely by releasing the basic police incident reports, where the officers tell their side of what happened. But he has declined to do that.)

What Suhr has said is that a caller to 911 reported a Latino man with a gun on the north side of the hill, a paved path where people jog and walk and take their dogs. When officers arrived, they saw a man with what turned out to be a Taser, but might look from a distance like a pistol. You can hear the police radio feed here.

The chief says the officers told Nieto to show his hands, and instead he drew the Taser.

Nieto was a security guard at a club and was licensed and trained to carry and use a Taser. Important background: A Taser doesn’t fire long distances; you have to be pretty close to get zapped.

So we hear two shots at first. There are several possibilities. One is that the officer or officers missed, that they fired at Nieto from a distance (into the setting sun) and didn’t hit him. (Lots of houses around the area; if the bullets missed Nieto, they would have wound up somewhere, and we haven’t heard of any broken windows, random slugs in the sides of houses, etc. Police use serious handguns, and the bullets travel a ways. This is the top of a hill; missed rounds would have appeared somewhere by now, you’d think. Unless they wound up hitting trees or benches and the investigating officers pulled the bullets as evidence.)

So maybe the first two shots hit him. If they did, the whole thing gets really, really funky.

After the first two shots, there’s a pause on the tape. “The officers responded to a report of a man with a gun in a park,” Pointer said. “But [Nieto] didn’t fire that gun, and after two shots, when he didn’t respond, why did they have to keep shooting?”

Good question. If he was hit, he would have been pretty seriously disabled. A dying man could still pull a pistol and shoot back – but since he didn’t have a pistol, he clearly didn’t do that. A man with two gunshot wounds who is not firing back? Maybe take a while to see if the threat still exists?

That took only seconds. Then you hear a volley. I counted 13 shots, some say 14. The number doesn’t matter.

“Each pull of the trigger, each shot, the officers have to justify by saying they are responding to a lethal threat,” Pointer said. And at a certain point, that threat was clearly gone.

The tragic question, of course, is this: What if the first two shots wounded, but did not kill, Alejandro Nieto? What if immediate medical attention at that point could have saved his life? What if the officers decided that the threat was eliminated, that he wasn’t firing back, and that the next step should be to try to keep him alive?

We’ll never know.

These things are complicated. They are also always – always – made worse when the authorities decline to release all the available information as soon as possible. All we can do now is wonder – until Chief Suhr comes to his senses and starts making what he knows (including the incident reports) public.


Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
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  1. The police were told that the man was carrying a handgun. That is what they expected to encounter. Police officers are individuals who are hired because they are fast reactors, they do not always get it right, but they are meant to react quickly to perceived threats. That is why you never want to do anything to surprise, startle or challenge the police. They are not lawyers, they are not deep thinkers, you have to do your best to get along with them by being as non-threatening as possible and by being as cooperative as you can be. I’ve seen a cop panic because he needed to stop a column of traffic and he obviously had never exercised that kind of authority. All it took was a glance in his face and I brought my car to a stop without him indicating that was what he needed and the 20 cars behind me had no choice but to stop. On another occasion, I glanced in my rear view mirror to witness a plain clothes cop trying to sneak up on my blind side with a gun drawn, because he and his partner decided to engage in an impromptu field exercise, taking advantage of the fact that I had been pulled over owing to an expired registration tab. I simply pretended not to notice that a grinning imbecile had a gun pointed at my head, knowing that they both imagined that I was completely unaware of his presence outside of my rear passenger window. You have to realize that the police aren’t the brightest nor the most mature, that some of them take the job for a sense of power, and some of them are afraid of exercising power, or are confused about how to exercise it, and some confuse the idea of the law and legal authority with their own sense of personal authority. At any rate, try to treat the police kindly and with empathy and respect because it could save your life, or someone else’s.

  2. Right on to every journalist with the guts to keep pulling back the layers.
    With money disappearing off of dead bodies and the cases going cold fast, with officers harassing the relatives of the deceased rather than solving the cold cases, with all of the layers of corruption it gets dicey out here.

    Who were the responding SFPD and where were they from?
    Why was Nieto in the park that night?
    Was somebody else in the park that the police are not disclosing?

    Do not be surprised to walk out your front door and spot an undercover out front of your place.
    When the SFPD roll past you in marked cars note the numbers on the side. You might begin to
    notice that one or two cars continuously show up near you whether you are in North Beach, Fillmore or the Mission. Stay on your guard.

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