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Nieto trial begins amid demonstrations outside courthouse

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Esperanza Hodgson (left) stand in support for Justice and Love for Alex Nieto while the Grupo de Danza Azteca Coyolxaugui dance outside the federal courts building in San Francisco during the federal trial of the case on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Emma Chiang/Special to SF Examiner)

Demonstrators rallied outside the federal courthouse early Tuesday ahead of the first day of the Alejandro “Alex” Nieto civil rights trial against the city and county of San Francisco.

The courtyard in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in the Tenderloin was filled with interspersed moments of singing, chanting and poetry from some 200 people who gathered around 8 a.m. in support of Nieto.

Nieto was shot and killed by San Francisco police in 2014 at Bernal Heights Park. Police have claimed that Nieto pointed a firearm-like stun gun at officers, while attorneys for the Nieto family are expected to argue otherwise during the civil rights trial.

Supporters held strong outside the courthouse as jury selection began in a small courtroom packed with reporters and a few demonstrators on the 15th floor of the federal building.

The Nieto family, represented by attorney Adante Pointer from the Law Offices of John Burris, is suing the San Francisco Police Department through The City for the wrongful death of their son, alleging that the officers violated their civil rights. They are seeking unspecified damages.

Benjamin Bac Sierra, who has acted as a spokesperson for the Nieto family since the shooting, said he feels “confident” heading into the trial.

“We feel that the evidence, both the physical and the logic of the case is…irrefutable,” Bac Sierra told the San Francisco Examiner. “I think it would be unreasonable for any juror to look at the evidence of the case and think otherwise.”

In court filings, Nieto family attorneys have included the deposition of a witness who said Nieto had his hands in his pockets when police shot him.

Police said Nieto raised his Taser, which he used as a security guard, at them when he was shot. Officers mistook the laser sight and shape of the weapon for a pistol.

At the demonstration, Supervisor John Avalos called for justice for Nieto and told the crowd that their presence in the past two years has made a difference in city government.

In 2014, the Board of Supervisors voted down a resolution that would have called for police reform and supported Black Lives Matter.

But demonstrators “have actually flipped my colleagues to make sure they support police reform,” Avalos said.

Earlier this year, the board passed a resolution that created a day of remembrance in San Francisco for Mario Woods, the stabbing suspect who was shot and killed by police in the Bayview last December.

The Woods killing was captured on several cellphone videos and has since sparked nationwide outrage. The shooting also played a part in the Department of Justice’s decision to review the policies, procedures and practices of the SFPD last month.

Oscar Salinas, a community member who donned a shirt in support of Nieto during the Tuesday rally, said the protest and the case are an effort to “expose the lies of the San Francisco Police Department.”

“Even though the officers are not going to be criminally liable,” Salinas told reporters, “this moment is very symbolic.”


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Refugio Nieto, Alex Nieto's father, talks with supporters of Alex Nieto before the federal trial at the federal court building in San Francisco on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (Emma Chiang/Special to SF Examiner)

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