On March 10, a jury in a federal civil rights case decided that the San Francisco Police Department had not used excessive force on March 21, 2014, when they gunned down Alex Nieto, 28, a lifelong resident of Bernal Heights. Previously, the district attorney of San Francisco decided not to pursue criminal charges against the officers involved. The civil rights case was brought by Nieto’s family.
“I am very confused how the jury came to the decision they did after seeing all the evidence that was presented,” said Refugio Nieto, Alex Nieto’s father. “What you have here is a green light to fire 59 shots in a public park,” said Adante Pointer, the lawyer representing the family. The family and their supporters organize under the name “Justice For Alex Nieto.”
On the evening he was killed, Nieto was watching the sunset and eating dinner in his local park before heading to work as a nightclub security guard. Another person in the park saw Nieto’s Taser holstered on his hip, lawfully carried equipment for his job, and mistook it for a firearm. This person reported Nieto to 911.
Four officers – first Sgt. Jason Sawyer (since promoted to Lt.) and Richard Schiff, followed seconds later by Nathan Chew and Roger Morse – responded, opening fire on Nieto from 100 feet away. Sawyer was a member of the city’s elite tactical unit, and was tasked with supervising Schiff, a rookie with the department only a few months, during a day of on-the-job training. Collectively, they fired 59 shots, hitting Nieto 14 times.
The central facts contended at the trial concern what Nieto was doing with his Taser at the time he was shot. The state claims that Nieto demanded the officers show their hands when they demanded he show his, moved to draw his Taser, and that the Taser logged three discharges in the same period the officers’ shots were fired.
Justice For Alex Nieto contests this, saying he did not draw his taser and had his hands in his pockets when he was shot. They point to the safety still being engaged on Nieto’s taser, witness testimony that his hands were pocketed, wrist bone fragments inside his pocket, the absence of markers released by a Taser when it’s fired, and the testimony of an employee of Taser International who stated that he was asked to change those logs by a city official, which the state and the Taser employee say was to correct for a clock error. The family claims instead it was to protect a business deal between the city and Taser International.
Justice for Alex Nieto also says Nieto’s character isn’t compatible with the state’s account – pointing out he was a “practicing Buddhist pacifist” studying to be a probation officer.
Roger Morse drew further outrage from supporters of the Nietos the day following the verdict, when he posted a comment scorning Alex Nieto on Facebook. Morse previously received public attention for a Facebook post when, on October 24, 2015 SFGATE covered a post where Morse detailed his thoughts about the deaths of people on duty that he did not personally kill. He described watching people die as “just one of the things I get paid to do, for I job I love doing.”