Jury trial begins in lawsuit by parents of Alex Nieto amid demonstrations
SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Dozens of protesters gathered outside the U.S. District Court in San Francisco Tuesday, the first day in the civil rights trial against four city police officers accused of killing a 28-year-old security guard.
A jury will decide whether the officers acted reasonably when they fatally shot Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, in Bernal Heights Park shortly after 7 p.m. on March 21, 2014.
The officers were responding to a report of a man with a gun.
Nieto had been eating a burrito at the park before going to his job as a security guard at a local nightclub. He was wearing a Taser stun gun, which the family’s lawyers say was licensed and needed for his job.
Nieto’s parents, Refugio and Elvira Nieto, filed a wrongful death lawsuit contending there is no evidence that he said anything to the officers before the initial volley of shots rang out or that he threatened them or pointed an object at them.
Alex Nieto lived with his parents and was a student at City College of San Francisco.
The police allege that the first two officers on the scene shouted, “Show me your hands,” at Nieto and that he answered, “No, show me your hands,” and then pulled what appeared to be a gun with a red laser light from his holster and pointed it directly at them.
City lawyers representing the officers wrote in a court filing, “The officers shot at Nieto, believing that their lives were in danger, to protect themselves and their fellow officers.
“Officers are trained that they shoot until the deadly threat to which they are reacting is no longer a deadly threat,” the city lawyers said.
Nieto was struck by at least 10 bullets, according to an autopsy report by the San Francisco medical examiner’s office.
Nieto’s parents, Refugio and Elvira Nieto, contend there is no evidence that he said anything to the officers before the initial volley of shots rang out or that he threatened them or pointed an object at them.
There “was no justification for this unwarranted use of deadly force,” the parents’ lawsuit alleges. The shooting led to protest marches and rallies in the city over the past two years.
Jury selection in the court of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins is expected to be completed in the morning and opening statements are slated to take place in the afternoon. The trial is estimated to take one and one-half weeks.
The parents filed the civil rights lawsuit in August 2014.
After having two claims dismissed in pretrial proceedings, the lawsuit now contains three claims: use of excessive force and denial of the parents’ right to a familial relationship in violation of the U.S.
Constitution, and wrongful death under California law. The defendants are Lt. Jason Sawyer, who was a sergeant at the time, and Officers Nathan Chew, Roger Morse, and Richard Schiff.
The lawsuit asks the jury to award an unspecified amount of financial compensation for lost wages and funeral expenses as well as an additional punitive financial award.