Since Alejandro Nieto was killed by police in a barrage of gunfire at Bernal Heights Park last year, he has become a martyr for many anti-police brutality activists in The City who claim the officers involved were in the wrong.
Supporters say Nieto was defenseless and never attempted to grab, or point at police, the stun gun holstered at his side. They also believe Nieto was brought to the ground by gunfire, and then shot until dead.
But previously unreported details included in a letter sent from the District Attorney’s Office to Chief Greg Suhr in February, when the DA decided not to press criminal charges against the four officers involved, contradict those claims. The case has since been referred to the FBI.
The San Francisco Police Department echoed the DA’s decision last week when it closed its investigation into Nieto’s death, determining that officers acted within department policy when they fatally shot him on March 21, 2014.
Nieto pulled the trigger on his stun gun three times within moments of police shooting at him, according to the DA.
Each trigger squeeze was recorded by the Taser’s memory. An analyst with Taser International reviewed the weapon’s clock and determined the trigger was first pulled at 7:18:45 p.m., again seven seconds later and then at 7:19:01 p.m., according to the DA.
“These times coincide with time the officers discharged their weapons, which can be heard on the audio recording of the 911 call beginning at 7:18:40 p.m.,” the letter read.
The letter aligns with the police narrative that Nieto approached then-Sgt. Jason Sawyer and officers Richard Schiff, Roger Morse and Nathan Chew with his weapon unholstered.
The officers shouted for Nieto to show his hands, police said. But Nieto shouted the command back at them and then “squared off with them in a defensive stance with one leg forward and one leg back,” the letter read.
When Nieto then drew his weapon and pointed it at the officers, they opened fire, according to the DA.
“Both officers continued firing towards Mr. Nieto, at which point he dropped to his knees and then laid down flat on the ground in a prone position with his head up, his arms outstretched in front of him, and still pointing his weapon at the officers,” the letter read, adding that an officer believed Nieto dropped to the ground as a tactical maneuver.
The officers fired 59 shots at Nieto. He was struck at least 10 times, resulting in 14 or 16 gunshot wounds, according to the Medical Examiner’s report.
Police found two Taser darts attached to wires discharged from the stun gun near Nieto’s body, according to the DA.
When police were called to Bernal Heights Park, officers were informed by a 911 caller that a man was pacing near a chain-link fence with his hand on the gun at his side. That man turned out to be Nieto, and the “gun” was a Taser.
Responding officers did not know, however, that a witness would later allege Nieto was acting erratically and pointing a Taser, which looked like a pistol, at his dog.
Still, police and the DA have placed the report side-by-side with officers’ claims that Nieto also pointed the Taser at them.
It wasn’t the first allegation of erratic behavior against Nieto. Less than three weeks before his death he allegedly stunned a friend’s husband with a Taser.
In 2011 he was twice placed on mental health holds. In one incident he lit a book aflame inside his residence and threw himself on it, according to the DA letter.
When his mother doused the fire, Nieto then “took the ashes to the kitchen, mixed them with soap, placed them on the patio floor, and ate them off the ground,” the letter read.
Last August, Nieto’s parents filed a civil rights lawsuit against The City, Suhr and officers for the wrongful death of their son.
Adante Pointer, an attorney for the family, said last week the case is still in discovery and a pretrial conference is set for Sept. 2.
Pointer and a spokesperson for the family were not immediately available for comment on this story.
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