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Thursday, August 5, 2021

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News + PoliticsThe tragedy of the Nieto verdict

The tragedy of the Nieto verdict

A mostly white, suburban jury helped create even more mistrust between the SFPD and the community

A largely white, entirely suburban jury found yesterday that four San Francisco police officers acted properly and violated no laws when they shot and killed Alejandro “Alex” Nieto on Bernal Hill in 2014.


The deputy city attorney who represented the cops, Margaret Baumgartner, later said that the issues were all about evidence and the federal standards for finding a violation of Constitutional rights. The jury, she said, believed that the officers were following the law and their high level of training and had no choice but to open fire and release some 58 bullets into the air, at least ten of which struck Nieto.

That didn’t satisfy the people who had attended the trial every day and heard all the evidence. As Baumgartner stood outside the courthouse to speak to media, Charles Pitts – a Nieto supporter who attended the trial regularly — interrupted her several times. “What do you say about the fact that this doesn’t even match the physical evidence of what happened?” he shouted. “They just kill us [Brown and Black people] off and the White people think it’s okay, it’s okay all the time. When do we get justice?”

He was not alone in that reaction.

In the end, after all the discussion of legalities and burdens of proof is over, the bottom line is simple: Eight jurors from out of town — in a federal case like this, the jury pool is regional — sent a very dangerous message to the police and the community in San Francisco.

Many San Franciscans heard yesterday that the federal courts think it’s okay for the cops to shoot young men of color with impunity.

Adante Pointer, lawyer for the Nieto family, noted that it’s hard to get justice for a person of color from a jury that doesn’t share that person’s life experiences. He also said outside the courtroom that this trial was only part of a longer struggle for police accountability.

“For people who believe in the justice system, today’s decision is a hard pill to swallow. The Nietos obviously wished for something much more, but the Nietos through the trial and through this process [feel] that at least the truth got out. Before the trial all people heard was that there was someone who was behaving erratically, but through the trial everyone heard that he was just another guy, in the words of a third party witness, he was just another guy enjoying his burrito, and he wound up getting 18 bullets for it.”

But, he said, “this case has galvanized the communities to fight for justice.”

Speaking to supporters that gathered at Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Refugio Nieto spoke of his anguish over his son’s killing. “It was at the courthouse that I saw the images of my son, the bullets that had perforated in his temple, his body, his broken arms, his broken legs, his body destroyed, the young man had been destroyed. How is it possible for the police to sustain a story in which Alex withstood [58 shots] and that a jury will find it in favor of the police? How is it possible? It’s a shame on the city, it’s a shame in the city and we need to understand that this is a danger to our grandchildren to all of us.”

The legal and political issues are just beginning.

There are at least two other cases where officers killed young men in what can at best be called dubious circumstances: Almicar Perez Lopez was shot down in the Mission, and Mario Woods killed in Bayview. In both cases Police Chief Greg Suhr has sided with the officers, who face no sanctions.

In both cases, family members have sued, and unless the city settles, those cases will go to trial. “We may be right back here again,” Pointer, who is working on the Woods case, told reporters.

The supporters of Nieto and his family are working with the activists who are seeking justice for Perez Lopez and Woods, and there’s a growing coalition of people outraged by the shootings. That will be a force in the political realm as well as the courts.

At the vigil, black and brown people of the Bayview, the Western Addition and the Mission came together to pay their tribute to Nieto. Minister Christopher Muhammad gave a rousing speech, urging people to embark what he referred to as a struggle against police impunity.

“We have to now come together and enforce consequences,” he said. “This can’t just be a moment, but this moment has to now lead to a movement.”

But the jury’s verdict, rendered in less than eight hours, was shocking to many who attended and covered the trial. It suggests that the jurors believed everything the police officers said, and disbelieved the other eyewitness, who unlike the cops had nothing to gain from his story.

It sends a message to other officers, Pointer said, “to let them say I can do whatever I want.”

In that sense, this was more than just a single civil cast. It was representative of the ongoing crisis in the San Francisco police department – a crisis that had led to a federal investigation, a special panel working with the district attorney, and demands for new policies and procedures for the use of deadly force.

At least, as supporters pointed out, Nieto’s story was told. So often these cases are buried; police review and discipline hearings are closed to the public, the Office of Citizen Complaints is not allowed to release the full results of its investigations, and even the records of violent officers are not available to the public.

So for almost two weeks, the media and the public got a look at how police officers operate, how they respond to questioning – and how a case that started off with a young man eating his dinner in a popular park wound up as a tragedy.

We heard how the officers started shooting the instant they saw what turned out to be a Taser – which, some of the evidence suggested, might not have been turned on – and didn’t stop even after Nieto was down on the ground, gravely (and it turns out fatally) injured.

We saw how the story told by four officers, whose careers were on the line if they admitted anything other than that Nieto aimed a weapon at them and threatened their lives, and we heard a very different story told by a man who had no motivation to make up his version of events.

Three of the four officers were white. The man who challenged their story was African American.

The cops were trained and experienced at testifying in court. The witness who challenged their version of events was not. The city attorney too full advantage of that situation.

In the end, the scary message from this trial is that we can’t trust the SFPD to protect citizens without killing them.

We asked people tonight – young people, people of color – what they would have done if they saw a man with what appeared to be a gun walking on Bernal Hill. We asked ourselves, too. The answer was always the same: After watching this trial, I would never call the cops.

We asked Baumgartner about that, about whether this trial sends a message that people of color can’t trust the police, that the cops can shoot and kill with no accountability. “I hope not,” she said.

We would like to hope not, too. But trust between the local police and the community is at a desperately low level. And the verdict today, from a suburban jury that doesn’t have to live with the impacts of what they have done in San Francisco, is only going to make things much, much worse.


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  1. That is probably the single most intelligent comment I’ve read on this case so far. Congratulations! You’re smart 🙂

  2. The jury is supposed to be comprised of the peers of the accused. You are the clueless one here.

  3. > As a matter of fact, jet-fuel doesn’t melt steel; otherwise jet engines would melt.

    whoa! Thanks for that one. Someone to add to my ignore list. You’ll never have to worry about a reply from me again!

  4. @Nancy Snyder –
    What you don’t understand is that someone can know that racism is a disease affecting all aspects of life here and they can still believe that Alex Nieto acted irresponsibly,endangering himself and others:

    1) He was wearing a Taser in public. If he needed it later in the evening for work then he should have put it on then. If he had to wear it in the park for some reason then he should have kept it out of sight. The other people using the park didn’t need to see a nonuniformed person wearing what a layman would think is a gun.

    2) Multiple people have said that he was not being inconspicuous while wearing the weapon. There are reports of shadow boxing, practicing a quick draw and more. No, he didn’t just take a seat and start eating his burrito.

    3) He pulled the weapon on a dog and person. Even if the dog owner was negligent he could have just shouted “Hey, get your dog away from me already”. He didn’t need to point the dangerous weapon.

    4) The plaintiff’s witness said that he was walking towards the police with his hands in his pockets. How about showing the police your hands. And that’s his witness.

    Aliex Nieto was a young Latino male but that doesn’t give him a free pass to act irresponsibly.

    What would you do if you took your kids to a park and someone was sitting there in plain clothes with a gun? Would you assume that he was going to his job as a security guard and continue to let your kids play around him?

  5. I agree with Al Osorio, whose above comments regarding the denial of racism continues unabated; reading the comments lauding the murderous actions of the police are like a needle in the heart

  6. Not just armed police. Our version of tyranny includes armed mass by civilians with mental problems.

  7. Re:
    “If the Taser was actually fired, might the gunshots have caused the victim’s finger to squeeze the trigger of the Taser?”

    So your theory is that he had the Taser in his hand with his finger on the trigger as the cops approached? That is basically agreeing with their version.

    The plaintiff side says that he was either eating a burrito or he had his hands in his pockets. I think you’re better off with one of those two versions as opposed to saying that he was brandishing the taser.

    “FYI: Taser corp reps have a profound incentive to maintain the public perception that their products are reliable, an incentive which could influence one’s testimony especially for the state.”

    FYI: They testified that the Taser’s clock was slow. That says reliability to you?

    Taser is a publicly traded billion dollar company. It is so dominant in its field that it has become a verb like Xeroxed and Googled.

    The penalty for perjury in a federal trial is up to 5 years in prison. Given the nature of this case the guy that they sent to lie would get significant jail time with no significant benefit to Taser.

    I hope that they at least made him Employee of the Month.

  8. Does one’s muscles contract when hit with multiple gunshots?

    If the Taser was actually fired, might the gunshots have caused the victim’s finger to squeeze the trigger of the Taser?

    FYI: Taser corp reps have a profound incentive to maintain the public perception that their products are reliable, an incentive which could influence one’s testimony especially for the state.

  9. “…but the shooting was justified.” – ?!

    You have no gag reflex! Wipe your chin, you missed a drop.

  10. Americans have a high collective tolerance for the govt-authorised violence/killing of fellow Americans.

    We impose tyranny upon ourselves by tolerating police violence/killing with impunity.

  11. Much respect to 48hills for covering this trial.

    We Americans must stop deifying the police.

    RIP Alex Nieto

  12. As a matter of fact, jet-fuel doesn’t melt steel; otherwise jet engines would melt. And a “conspiracy” is just something you are not intellegent enough to figure out. derp, derp, derp indeed…..

    Racist cops get away with murder, again. Unfortunately, it’s not news.

  13. It’s an unfortunate result for the family, but the jury system as a whole remains the best way to bring people to justice, especially if the DA has not acted to prosecute. You win some and you lose some. I understand that is no salve to the family but litigation has risks and this is one of those risks. Juries also award damages against the police frequently, and attacking the entire system means you also throw out the favorable results. Doesn’t take the sting away but there is a bigger picture.

  14. The Constitution does not guarantee you a “jury by your peers.” It’s not there. That’s a made-up right that people believe in. The federal court jury pool consists of people in the Bay Area in general.

  15. Sorry, but Mr. Pointer (the Nietos’ attorney) doesn’t get to complain about the federal jury pool. Their Sec. 1983 claim could have been brought in state court, but clearly Mr. Pointer thought that federal court offered a more favorable forum.

  16. Yeah, his hands were in his pockets, and steel doesn’t melt from jet fuel, derp derp derp. Ignorant conspiracy theorists abound within social media.

  17. shooting of an unarmed man with his hands in his pockets was justified because…….?
    no need to answer, trolls abound within social media.

  18. We asked Baumgartner about that, about whether this trial sends a message that people of color can’t trust the police, that the cops can shoot and kill with no accountability. “I hope not,” she said.

    her reply could have easily been ‘i hope so’. what a hateful comment, to vilify and attack an innocent victim and then pretend that was not her intent. white supremacist doublespeak at its best.

  19. that is the colonial mindset forced upon us. they upheld white supremacy, and you call them my peers? MJ62874 you have no clue…….whether you like it or not.

  20. I like how with Redmond the biased “journalist” blogger, the plaintiffs’ witness is just a poor guy who wasn’t trained in how to testify and was attacked, but the other guy for the defense was a racist misogynist, no questions asked. Such a hypocrite. A guy who was off his meds and on a schizophrenic breakdown terrorized people in the park and pulled his gun-shaped Taser on the cops. He didn’t deserve to die, he deserved mental care, but the shooting was justified.

  21. So Taser called in their employee and said “We need you to personally commit perjury in Federal Court because it will help us with a contract with the SFPD”.

    Thanks for figuring that out for us!

    And lets say that the clock was perfect. Any explanation as to why the Taser was fired while Nieto was peacefully eating a burito?

  22. I think the Taser misfired. They said that the electrodes were protruding but not fully deployed.

    I don’t know about the Taser being on or off. It is possible that Nieto realized the gravity of the situation in his last seconds and turned it off. Or perhaps it really wasn’t off and just looked that way in the picture.

    But it is hard to ignore the representative from Taser offering sworn testimony saying that the Taser was fired at the 7:18PM time of the police confrontation. The plaintiff arguing that it happened 4 minutes before the shooting sort of blows the “peacefully eating a burrito” story out of the water at the very least

  23. What Latino from the Mission was being judged? I thought that the police were on trial.

    And if you think that Federal juries should be selected by race than write to your Congressperson.

  24. Taser International had a strong motivation to reset the internal clock of Alex Nieto’s gun.

    According to KQED news (Feb 9), Taser International was just awarded the contract for SFPD body cameras. Other potential vendors quoted saying: “We obviously believe that there’s an unfair playing field out there caused by Taser and its behavior,” said Thomas Heckman, chief financial officer for Taser competitor Digital Ally. “I think most if not all the other body-worn camera manufacturers would share that same thought.”

    Was the Taser International employee’s reset of the Nieto gun internal clock which back-dated it’s firing by 4 minutes due to “clock drift” the price for the SFPD body cam contract? And is this why Suhr is pushing the Police Commission hard to award Taser International another lucrative contract for shock guns, in addition to body cams?

    We need some serious investigative journalism or an independent prosecutor to find out.

  25. White suburban jurors are the peers of a Latino from the Mission? What a clueless comment.

  26. Well then, maybe that accounts for the lack of ‘confetti’ from the “fired” Taser – if the body was moved. Still doesn’t explain who turned the Taser “off”.

    But then, with these two pieces of negative evidence, how does the time-stamp fit into the picture – even if ‘drifted’ by a few minutes?

  27. Or maybe the jury was swayed by the representative from Taser, who had no motivation to commit personal perjury, when he said that the Taser had been fired at the time of the shooting. Which corroborates what the police said.

    Also: “Three of the four officers were white. The man who challenged their story was African American.”

    He also contradicted his own sworn testimony several times, he twice brought up the fact that his alcoholism affected his memory. His version of the story would have required the police to move the body 20 yards uphill after the shooting.

    But by all means, just play the race card and leave it at that.

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