Police provide explanation of Bernal Heights Park shooting at emotional town hall meeting

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Sup. David Campos (left) and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr (right) at a Wed/25 town hall meeting about a police shooting.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

The San Francisco Police Department held a town hall meeting at Leonard Flynn Elementary school last night [Wed/25] to discuss a March 21 officer-involved shooting that fatally wounded 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto. The meeting drew a large crowd, with members of the community taking turns speaking for several hours to vent their frustration and sadness over Nieto's death.

At the start of the meeting, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr provided an account of the events leading up to Nieto being gunned down by at least four police officers in Bernal Heights Park. Despite earlier reports that he had a gun in a holster on his hip, it was later discovered that Nieto had actually been carrying a Taser, Suhr said. Friends said Nieto had a Taser because he worked as a night club security guard.

The police chief said the encounter started because someone who had seen Nieto inside Bernal Heights Park dialed 911 at about 7:11pm to report that there was a man with "a gun on his hip. A black handgun.”

About a minute later, according to a printout from the 911 dispatch that Suhr read out loud, the person who had called 911 provided an update that "the man was pacing back and forth, by a chain-linked fence, near a bench.”

After a couple minutes, the 911 dispatch record showed, the reporting party said "the subject is still on scene ... He is eating chips, or sunflowers [sunflower seeds?], but resting his hand on the gun.”

Then, “At about 7:15, a sergeant from Ingleside station and another officer go on scene and start a search for the area ... At about 7:18 and 49 seconds, that same reporting party – again, who’s not a police officer – heard shots fired. The shots ... were fired by the police department.”

Within three and a half minutes of arriving to the scene, police had opened fire and shot Nieto multiple times. While friends said he was shot 14 times, Suhr said he did not yet know how many bullets had struck Nieto. Suhr confirmed that the officers who had been involved in the shooting had been placed on paid leave.

“What Mr. Nieto had was, he had a black Taser pistol," Suhr said. “The distance from which the officers engaged Mr. Nieto was about … 75 feet, up a hill." To illustrate the distance, he said it was about from where he was standing to the back wall of the room. From that distance, he later said, "they could not make out that there was any yellow on the gun." 

Suhr went on: "When the officers asked him to show his hands, he drew the Taser from the holster. And these particular Tasers, as soon as they’re drawn, they emit a dot. A red dot.”

Suhr picked up a Taser and pointed it at the back wall of the room, where a small red dot was visible, to underscore the point.

“When the officers saw the laser sight on them, tracking, they believed it to be a firearm, and they fired at Mr. Nieto," the police chief went on. "He did not survive his injuries.” Suhr added that police “believed he had a firearm. They fired in defense of their own lives.” In a later interview, he confirmed that officers would not have used lethal force had they known that Nieto possessed a Taser instead of a firearm.

Clearly, some who turned out at the meeting weren't buying the police account.

Ben Bac Sierra, who was friends with Nieto, asked Suhr several questions at the meeting. "What kind of warning did police provide to Alex? Did they have a loudspeaker of some sort? Did officers approach with weapons drawn? Now that you're saying that he pointed the laser at them, then I can imagine that the yellow [Taser markings] were clearly visible. At 7pm it is still daylight outside. So why wouldn't officers know immediately? And why was there no call for cease fire once one of the intelligent, professionally trained officers could tell that that was a Taser? I have witnesses' accounts: Some say 50 bullets were shot at that time."

Others who knew Nieto well were skeptical of the idea that he would have pulled out his Taser in response to being asked to show his hands.

Nieto was one semester away from graduating from City College of San Francisco, where he was studying Administration of Justice with a longterm goal of becoming a youth probation officer. He was mentored by people whose lives were devoted to helping youth who had gone through the criminal justice system to improve their lives. He practiced Buddhism. He had passed a required state exam to become a security guard.

"To me, it doesn't add up," said Carlos Gonzalez, a muralist and youth probation officer who knew Nieto, as he spoke at the town hall meeting. "It just doesn't make sense to me that he would be that dumb to do something like that."

At the meeting, Suhr said Nieto had been barred from possessing a firearm due to a history of mental illness. Some witness accounts in the media described a man who was "pacing," "air boxing," and threatening a dog with a Taser. At the same time, the record suggests dispatchers and police did not consider themselves to be responding to a call involving a mentally ill individual. Asked if members of the department's Crisis Intervention Team, which has officers specifically trained to deal with people experiencing mental illness, had been dispatched to the scene, Suhr told the Bay Guardian, "There was never any indication ... the whole thing unfolded in minutes. It was a man with a gun call."

Suhr also mentioned during the town hall meeting that Nieto did not have a criminal record, but that a restraining order had been filed against him.

Records show that on March 20, the day before Nieto was killed, San Francisco resident Yajaira Barrera Estrada had requested a restraining order against Nieto. The next day, the request was partly granted and partly denied pending a hearing that had been set for April 11. In her request, Estrada described her relationship with Nieto by saying they "used to be friends." She wrote in the document that an incident had occurred on March 5, in which Nieto had "started to shoot my husband with a Taser gun 3 to 4 times," in front of her son.

Her husband, Arthur Vega, also filed a request for a restraining order against Nieto, on March 14. "Five years ago he use to be a friend of mine but now he has bad blood for me," Vega wrote in that request. He described the same incident, saying Nieto had attacked him with a Taser. His request also noted, "Alejandro also has a restraining order against me," evidently stemming from some previous altercation in which Vega may have been the aggressor.

When we reached Estrada by phone, she declined to discuss the restraining order or the circumstances surrounding it. However she did say this: "Alex was an excellent person. I don't know why the media is writing bad things about him. I don't know why the police shot him. He was an excellent person with me."

Near the end of the meeting, Sup. David Campos issued a public apology to Nieto's father. Then, with Campos translating, Nieto's father explained that he had not learned that Nieto had been shot by police until the day after it happened. "And then when the police investigators came in, the first thing they were asking him was ... about Alejandro," Campos said, translating what Nieto's father was telling him in Spanish. "It wasn't until they had asked all the questions that they actually told them what had happened. And then they wanted to go into his room and search the room, and he said no."

Then police took Nieto's car, Campos added, saying they needed it for an investigation. "And so they're trying to understand why that happened, given that it had nothing to do with what actually took place," Campos noted. Meanwhile, "They haven't said anything to him about when they're going to ... release the body."

Below are some more comments and photographs from the town hall meeting.

And here are some comments from Blanca Gutierrez and her 10-year-old son, Sebastian, who spoke at the hearing:

Comments

I'm not sure what else anyone can reasonably expect the police to do when someone draws a weapon on them.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

Can you honestly say that shooting someone 14 or more times when they have not fired one shot is correct procedure. Do you honestly believe that shooting to kill when not one shot has been fired is correct procedure without knowing the facts? If this is a just procedure then are we now placing the police as judge, jury and handing them the right to decide who should be killed and who gets a chance to live. This is a unacceptable procedure! The police should be protectors for all of our communities and we should all feel safe in the pretense of the police.

Posted by Guest Tere on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 1:23 am

If a cop or anyone else is threatened with immediate harm or death, the the cops can "shoot to kill".

The reason is that the one shot to disable a man is just in the movies. In real life you need multiple rounds fired, because some will miss and some will not stop the bad guy.

So the SFPD response here was correct, even if the outcome is sad.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 5:35 am

So what you're saying is that the police need to wait until shots are actually fired at them. Basically, committing suicide or hoping that the individual firing at them is a rellay bad shot.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 8:12 am

Police officers are the biggest liars i know. Believing everything they say is being ignorant.

Posted by Ron thomas on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

How do you know a cop is lying on the witness stand?

His lips are moving!

Posted by Greg on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

Which should tell you how out of touch you are.

Seriously, Greg, why the obsession with cops? It's creepy.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

Otherwise the Public Defender's office wouldn't be winning 62% of their cases.

Incidentally, that joke's been making the rounds for a long time. I heard it from a now-deceased criminal defense attorney years ago. "Testilying" is another common term. Everyone in the business knows that cops routinely perjure themselves. Only lay people believe this angelic façade. Except San Francisco juries tend to be more discerning than average.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

Jason Grant Garza ... yes, Greg you are correct. SF is "Risk Management" a go-go. This is one of their tactics along with scorched earth ... here is an example of its finest. In 2001 SF broke federal EMTALA law and denied me services and had me illegally and falsely arrested. My doctor abandoned me since I was suing the city and he was the Director of Public Health ( more pressure ) and in 2003 when I took them to federal court (C02-3485PJH) the fraud was committed with testilying and my case was thrown out. I continued and went to the Office of Inspector General where in 2007 the city signed a confession admitting fault and guilt yet left their innocent vindicated victim for DEAD. http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html It is 2014 and NO ONE from the courts, DPH, SFPD, Sheriff nor city attorney (same one) has explained. Testilying .... http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/reply2.html and note the admission .... # 6 http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle2.html .

Now go to youtube and type in Jason Garza to see that it just continues .... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo&list=TLrk-qXMSnlxIHZ3oepMRXJ... and when I continue to speak the TRUTH others blame the victim, wish him death and DO NOT want to hear the truth ... http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2014/03/27/inside-homeless-outreach-team ( note: read the comments where it is suggested that I off myself as a martyr ) since as it states I have been blogging for over 5 years ( it has been more ) in regard to what I am saying and what is left out of the equation and facts is that JUSTICE is rarely swift and fast as a point in case ... the signed confession took 6 years as stated by http://www.sfbg.com/2007/06/27/crazy.

So truly don't look for too much humanity here at these blogs ....

Again, the TRUTH will out. Oh, and if you think that is a FARCE look at my MINISTRY of SUNSHINE videos at youtube under Jason Garza (where I have close to 400 videos and continuing) or even more hopelessness ... look at the SFPD LGBT Liaison videos ... learn the GAMES, watch the INHUMANITY and note most would rather have the truth silenced.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 6:41 am

Your very sexist, no women or transgenders can be police officers? Oh by the way
Since you have all the answers, why don't join, then you can wright all the wrongs of all the the law enforcement you see. And you can be a eye witness instead of an ivory tower know it all:)

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 2:18 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

Someone is willing to eat whatever garbage the SFPD serves without question. If this is "correct procedure" maybe that procedure needs to be changed.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

If a perp pulls a firearm on a cop, they get shot.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

Sierra is an idiot. That is all.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:20 pm

Health tip: don't draw weapon on police.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 8:50 pm

....It's nothing more than a claim. As long as police are the only source for the claim that he pointed the taser at them then there is no reason to believe it.

Nothing indicates he wanted to commit suicide-by-cop (the only explanation for pointing anything at a cop).

Maybe a witness not connected to law enforcement will come forward corroborating the claim or, even better, some cellphone video will emerge. But, absent some corroborating evidence, the police claim that he drew his weapon on them is just not believable.

Posted by Franklin on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

Or he could have had some sort of psychotic episode. I'm not saying that did happen but that would explain his pulling the taser on the cops. In the Chronicle article, even Nieto's friends say he hadn't been acting like himself lately and appeared depressed.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 10:53 pm

taser was found at the scene.

There is no evidence to the contrary.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 5:36 am

This is why all police officers should have a camera on them recording exactly what they see and hear before they use force.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 10:16 pm

prudent exceptions and a protocol to protect privacy.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 5:37 am

Police use force in less than 1-5% of all arrests nationwide. You really want to bear the public expense of cameras to monitor such a small percentage of that? More than 20-30% of women nationwide have been subject of some form of physical violence from a spouse/boyfriend. Roughly the same percentage of children in the US are physically abused each year. At any given time on American freeways, roughly 10-15% of all drivers on the road are at or above the legal limit of intoxication. Where is your outrage over those REAL problems?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 9:01 pm

are pulled out of the ass.

I don't see the problem with cameras on cops. It would help both sides find the truth in any dispute between the cop's version and the arrestee's version. In other words, a cop with nothing to hide has nothing to fear.

Your stand on this reveals the hypocrisy of the authoritarian trolls. You accuse anyone who doesn't agree with you of hating cops and loving criminals. But if cops are so angelic, then this idea should help them win their cases. I have no problem with that when it's warranted. All I care about is the truth. But you want total surveillance of the civilian population, and no oversight of the state security apparatus. Proving again that you're nothing but an authoritarian.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 7:42 am

and not will it enable criminals to get away with stuff more.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 9:25 am

Yes I do, in communities where police have to wear cameras, incidents of police violence have gone down massively, 22-28%. Google the article, it makes sense, cops do lie all the time, and then hide behind the Blue Wall of Silence. That is why I believe every cop guilty, if you are not part of the solution, but helping to hide the problem, what does that say?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 11:36 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 11:48 am

The cop was the killer, not the victim. Correct me if I'm wrong about the significance of the black strip thing, but from my understanding, a black strip over the badge is worn to honor only one of their own, not one of the human beings they're allegedly sworn to protect. I haven't heard of any recently dead cops.

If they're doing that in honor of a victim of police violence for once, then that's an interesting gesture. Better that they didn't murder him in the first place. And if they're wearing it to honor the killer, that's just sick.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

The black strip was probably in regards to the cop who was killed last week up in Oregon. And they didn't "murder" him. They responded to a perceived lethal threat. Leave it to you to suggest that they're wearing it to honor someone who killed a person. Your anti-cop bias is showing again.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 12:56 am

subject of cops. He thinks the cops should never use their guns.

Maybe he should move to England or Japan where that is true.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 5:38 am

So some cop somewhere in another state is more worthy of mourning than a San Franciscan murdered right here. That says it all about their attitude toward the people they're sworn to protect.

And maybe we should be more like England and Japan. I fail to see why it's somehow bad to run a society in such a way that murder is rare, including police murder. We should hold them up as examples to emulate. We should see if we can incorporate some of their practices into our own society. Hint: we can start with our gun laws. Only in the twisted world of the trolls is this something negative.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 7:37 am

safety of the kind of vermin and scum that they risk their lives to defend us from.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 7:42 am

Unless if by "us," you mean trolls.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

what the majority think.

When a gang member kills another gang member, few people give a crap.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

Again. He wasn't murdered. He was shot and killed because he represented a legitimate, potentially lethal threat. But we know, we know... cops are bad, mmmkaaay.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

who was killed in California by a wanted fugitive from Oregon. That fugitive also murdered an elder of the Coquille tribe, a 79-year old man.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

Jason Grant Garza here ... ah, the Chief of Police helping disabled or individuals with mental illness ... ha,ha,ha. Go to youtube to see close to 400 videos of my trying to get an meeting with the chief to show videos, evidence and non-performance on SFPD. There you will see where I was falsely 5150'd at their Northern Station https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XzuUtR-7hQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJlOgdW5QHk and then watch the prior videos of the chief's office telling me that my only point of contact was Kelly Kruger and ask me if Kruger responded, had me in to discuss and videotape, etc. The answer is HELL NO just a rigged method so that you have no recourse. Look at the specific SFPD LGBT Liaison videos to see more deception and lies. Where was my "SAFE ZONE" at Northern Station? Where was I treated with respect, compassion and honesty? Why has NO CATAIN from Northern or Mission Station contacted me as specifically requested (watch videos)? Can you say BULL?

So when the article states " Asked if members of the department's Crisis Intervention Team, which has officers specifically trained to deal with people experiencing mental illness, had been dispatched to the scene, Suhr told the Bay Guardian, "There was never any indication ... the whole thing unfolded in minutes. It was a man with a gun call." I can tell you that is it MEANINGLESS. What crisis team, what humanity, what follow up ... keep watching the videos on youtube (under Jason Garza) to see and ask why has this not been offered for HOW long now? Could it be that my videos and questions would show what they can not answer? Yes, keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 7:01 am

Maybe, JGG, you should arrange to get shot by the SFPD. If you survived, you'd certainly have the ear of city officials.

Posted by Chromefields on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 7:51 am

Jason Grant Garza here ... dear Chromefields do you mean like the ear and attention of city officials that I got after the city signed a confession admitting fault and guilt for breaking federal law. http://myownprivateguantanamo.com/settle1.html in 2007 with the Office of Inspector General when they testilied and had my case thrown out in 2003 (C02-3485PJH) for a CRIME they committed in 2001? My it is 2014 and NO ONE from the courts, SFPD, DPH, Sheriff nor City Attorney (same one) has explained how I can have an arrest record (never having been arrested before) sitting next to a confession for a CRIME they committed. So please save your cute comments and distractions for the city officials. Unless, that of coarse is not your intent but rather to distract, risk manage. make fun, etc of the TRUTH and the VICTIM. Please continue to show us your intent ... mine is apparent ... accountability, transparency, humanity, etc. And FYI it is the INHUMANITY I fight, video tape and document ... I still await humanity as apparently you have been so concerned about. As far as being shot by SFPD please go to youtube and watch the 9/18/13 videos regarding the false and illegal 5150 at Northern Station in their "SAFE ZONE" as falsely represented to the LGBT community.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 10:52 am

Chromefields is just a sociopath.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 11:33 am

wants to denigrate his debating opponent?

Seems to be overtaking "troll" in common usage.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 11:47 am

Erratic behavor, threatening, history of mental illness? Even people who knew and liked Nieto seem to know he had a negative side.

Comments like gundowned, murdered, victim, are disturbing.

Police also have friends, and familys, children, and some with grand children.

To imply that they kill someone without a good reason is irrational,

It's sad to see a young man die but the police simply did their job.

Posted by Bill on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

agitators who jump on every police shooting and claim it was not justified.

All the facts indicate that the takedown was very necessary

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

familys? That would be families.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 29, 2014 @ 8:50 pm

I'll immediately snatch your rss feed as I can not to find
your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service.
Do you have any? Kindly allow me realize in order that I may just subscribe.
Thanks.

Posted by google on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

What if it was true that Mr. Nieto (Rest in Peace/love to his family) was actually looking to hurt someone and the police did their job? And I mean *what if* ALL the evidence that is shown shows that this this guy unfortunately needed help and it resulted to this unfortunate situation? (Btw, people, take care of yourself. Mentally and physically!)

Would it still be a fault someone's of race that isn't the same as him? Would it still be the fault of gentrifiers? It sounds to me like everyone defending or offending this is looking for fault at someone.

What if it came out that he was actually just having lunch at the hill and was falsely assumed as a "bad person". Would it be the gentrifiers fault again? Perhaps a dog that barked at him? Who's fault would it be?

In this country, it's always someone's fault. Think about that.

Posted by GuestSee on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

In free America, people don't get shot for carrying a gun. So why is it OK to shoot a man from 25 yards away for carrying something that might be a gun?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 7:10 am
Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 7:47 am

Man. do the cops sound like liars. That's all I got to say.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 10:03 am

Just prejudice and speculation?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 10:26 am

Man. do the cops sound like liars. That's all I got to say.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 10:05 am

check Justice 4 Alex Nieto on Facebook groups and educate yourselves...

Posted by Guest Idriss Stelley Foundation on Mar. 28, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

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