SFPD Faces Angry Questions Over Fatal Police Shooting in Bernal Heights Park

San Francisco Police Department Chief Greg Suhr addresses an angry crowd at a town hall meeting Tuesday about a recent fatal officer-involved shooting in the city's Bernal Heights Park. Suhr said officers believed 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto pointed a gun at officers from 75 feet away, but the weapon turned out to be a Taser stun gun.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr addresses an angry crowd at a town hall meeting Tuesday about a recent fatal officer-involved shooting in the city’s Bernal Heights Park. Suhr said officers believed 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto pointed a gun at officers from 75 feet away, but the weapon turned out to be a Taser stun gun. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

San Francisco Police Department brass hosted a grim ritual last night, addressing the neighborhood of a man shot and killed by police just four days before.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto pointed a Taser stun gun at officers responding Friday evening to reports of a man with a gun in Bernal Heights Park.

Shouts erupted from the crowd of about 300 before Suhr finished speaking. Nieto’s friends and mentors said the City College of San Francisco criminal justice student and aspiring probation officer wouldn’t point a weapon at police. They said he carried a stun gun for his job as a nightclub security guard.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me that he would be that dumb,” said Deputy San Francisco Probation Officer Carlos Gonzalez, who said he knew Nieto for 10 years and encouraged him as an intern with the probation department. “I think we need to find out more about what happened and get to the bottom of it.”

Suhr said police received a call at 7:11 p.m. of a man with a holstered gun. About seven minutes later, witnesses heard many gunshots, all fired by police officers.

A family spokesman said he believes Nieto was shot 14 times, but family members have not yet been allowed to view his body.

Suhr said he would make that information available when he gets it from the medical examiner.

The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed witnesses who had seen Nieto at the park, including an unnamed person who said Nieto pointed the stun gun at a dog.

Suhr said Nieto was prohibited from owning a gun for mental health reasons, which drew a lot of anger from the crowd.

State law restricts firearm possession in some cases involving mental health, usually when a threat of violence is communicated to a therapist or an inpatient being treated for mental illness is believed to be a danger to himself or others.

“It’s a fact that Mr. Nieto was prohibited from having a firearm, for reasons that I don’t want to upset anybody about,” Suhr said over shouts.

Mission neighborhood leader Roberto Hernandez said bringing up Nieto’s mental health was an attempt to “throw dirt on him.”

“I’ve been depressed, I don’t know what person has never been depressed,” Hernandez said. “That has nothing to do with murdering him.”

Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco said SFPD’s homicide division and the Office of Citizen Complaints will investigate the shooting and bring their findings to the commission, which reviews every officer-involved shooting.

Several people at the town hall said Nieto was a victim of gentrification in the city’s Mission District, which borders Bernal Heights Park.

City College instructor and family friend Ben Bac Sierra said park-goers were quick to call police and officers were quick to shoot a Latino man.

“I don’t believe he was doing anything other than eating his burrito, watching the view,” he said. “There is no way that Alejandro Nieto pointed the Taser at police officers — insane to believe that.”

Bac Sierra said a civil rights attorney with John Burris’ law office is investigating the case. Nieto’s friends are planning a rally and march for this Saturday, leaving from the Mission Cultural Center at 3 p.m.

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Author

Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a news reporter focused on criminal justice policy, policing and legal issues. He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at community college in San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University's journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Emslie contributed to several Bay Area newspapers and online news outlets before joining KQED in 2013. He loves multimedia reporting, publishing source documents and transparency. He can be reached at aemslie@kqed.org and followed via @SFNewsReporter.

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