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Nieto police misconduct case heads to trial today

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Alejandro Nieto was shot and killed by San Francisco police at Bernal Heights Park on March 21, 2014. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

In the two years since police fired dozens of rounds at Alejandro “Alex” Nieto while he walked in Bernal Heights Park, the young man has become a martyr for those protesting police violence.

Today, those protesters are set to rally outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building, where the first day of a civil rights lawsuit against the City and County of San Francisco will begin.

Attorneys for the Nieto family are alleging in the suit that the four officers who opened fire — Jason Sawyer, Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew — caused the wrongful death of Nieto on March 21, 2014, violating the civil rights of his family. Attorneys are seeking unspecified damages.

Nieto was a City College of San Francisco student who was eating lunch atop Bernal Hill before he was killed. The exact events that led up to his death are expected to be up for debate based on witness testimony for the Nieto family lawyers and city attorneys.

The City maintains that Nieto pointed a stun gun at the officers before he was shot, which the officers say they mistook for a pistol. A witness for the Nieto family, however, said Nieto never raised his arms, according to court filings.

The fatal police shooting was the first in a recent series that have shaken the public’s trust with the San Francisco Police Department.

The latest, from last December, was the killing of Mario Woods, 26, who was suspected of stabbing someone with a knife before police opened fire.

A year ago last week, Amilcar Perez Lopez, 20, was shot and killed by San Francisco police while allegedly using a knife to steal a bicycle in the Mission.

Together, the deaths of the three men have provided fodder for rallies in San Francisco, where calls for police reform have come all the way from demonstrators to the mayor himself.