Closing arguments set for Wednesday in Alex Nieto civil trial

Tuesday marked the last day of witness testimony in the civil case filed by the family of Alex Nieto, who was shot and killed by a group of San Francisco police officers in March 2014.

The day’s witnesses — several police training experts, among others — spoke mostly about what officers should do in situations similar to that of the shooting at Bernal Heights Park nearly two years ago.

Police say they responded to reports of a man with a gun inside the park on March 21, 2014. When they arrived and told Nieto to put his hands up, he pulled a stun gun they mistook for a gun. They opened fire with nearly 50 rounds because they believed their lives were in danger.

But a defense witness said on the stand last week that he never saw Nieto pull a pistol or act erratically.

“They all started firing while [Nieto] was on the ground,” Antonio Theodore said, adding that he never pulled out his stun gun or acted dangerously. “It was unnecessary to shoot him up so much.” Theodore’s testimony under cross examination revealed he has a shaky memory in general and has been drinking alcohol regularly since the shooting.

Still, if events unfolded as police say, police training expert Don Cameron’s testimony posited the four officers as simply followed their training when they opened fire.

Cameron said that the officers acted well within the rules of engagement from the distance they created between themselves and Nieto when they fired at him.

“Once the person’s made a move to produce a firearm, talking’s over,” said Cameron, “you’ve got to react to it.”

Throughout much of the testimony of the four officers — Jason Sawyer, Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew — Nieto family lawyer Adante Pointer went over what he characterized as steps the four took that contradicted their training.

First, no plan of action was taken when the officers headed up the hill toward Nieto. No perimeter was set up, nor was there a point person named. Pointer even asked why no sirens were on and why the loud speaker was not used to warn Nieto before the officers began firing. He also asked why the officers did not assess the situation when they figured out Nieto was not firing anything at them.

The closing arguments are set to finish Wednesday morning in Judge Nathanael Cousins federal courtroom. By lunch, the jury is expected to deliberate over whether The City should pay Nieto’s family unspecified monetary damages.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

Alex Nietocivil trialCrimeSan Francisco Police Department

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