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Alejandro Nieto’s father, Refugio Nieto, (left) and friend Ben Bac Sierra talk to reporters outside San Francisco City Hall after filing a wrongful death claim against the city on Monday, April 14. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

The parents of Alejandro Nieto, the 28-year-old man shot and killed by San Francisco police officers in Bernal Heights Park March 21, filed a wrongful death claim against the city on Monday. The family, which is seeking unlimited damages, hopes the legal threat will pressure the police department and medical examiner into releasing more information about the shooting.

Gabriel Zitrin, spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, said the city has 45 days to respond to the claim, which can either be denied by the city attorney, or recommended to the Board of Supervisors for settlement. Filing a claim with the city is typically a precursor to a wrongful death  lawsuit.

The family’s attorney, civil rights litigator John Burris, is also calling for a federal investigation into the shooting of Nieto, a civic-minded man loved by many in his neighborhood.

“We’re requesting that the U.S. attorneys here, the Department of Justice, conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding (Nieto’s) death, and if necessary, file criminal charges against these officers,” Burris said Monday.

Addressing a March 25 neighborhood meeting about the shooting, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Nieto had aimed a Taser at officers and “tracked” them with the stun gun’s laser sight. He said officers were responding to calls about a man with a gun, and they believed Nieto was about to shoot them with a firearm.

But Nieto’s friends and family say it’s impossible to believe the City College criminal justice student, a former intern with the city’s probation department, would point a weapon at officers. They think that after people saw Nieto with the Taser he carried on his hip for his job as a security guard, police arrived and shot him without warning.

“There’s a bit of a cowboy element to this,” Burris said.

The claim alleges Nieto was shot at least 10 times, including once in the forehead. Burris said that information came from his office’s independent viewing of Nieto’s body, because the San Francisco medical examiner has not released a report. The medical examiner did not return requests for information about the report’s status.

Nieto’s friend, Ben Bac Sierra, said he obtained audio from a home security camera that captured multiple bursts of gunfire, but police have not released dispatch tapes from the incident.

About 500 people marched in the rain Saturday, March 29, from San Francisco's Mission District to Bernal Heights Park, where 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto was shot and killed by police officers a week before. (Alex Emslie/KQED)
About 500 people marched in the rain Saturday, March 29, from San Francisco’s Mission District to Bernal Heights Park, where 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto was shot and killed by police officers a week before. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

Nieto’s family is also alleging police illegally confiscated and searched his car the day after the shooting — without a warrant or permission. That occurred after police questioned the family for more than 30 minutes without telling them their son had been shot, the claim alleges. A family spokesman said that only after Nieto’s parents refused to let police search their son’s bedroom did they tell them Nieto was dead and confiscated his car.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Burris said of the car search. “He was not in the car, he had not come from the car. That car was towed … and searched without the family’s permission. That obviously in many ways is a constitutional violation because the car was searched without a search warrant. But that’s the treatment aspect of it that was most disturbing. There was no respect given to the family after the shooting had taken place.”

San Francisco police Sgt. Danielle Newman said the department would not respond to allegations in the claim and directed questions to the city attorney. She said officers involved in the shooting, whose identities have not been made public, have returned to duty.

The alleged response by police drew sharp criticism from San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, which in turn prompted a harsh reaction from the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

Read the claim below:

  • alexagtlawyers

    Its interesting to note that the war of words has already started between the San Francisco supervisor and the Police Officers Association. Would definitely keep a tab on further developments.

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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