A crime scene photograph of a hat from the 2014 police shooting of Alex Nieto. (Courtesy Department of Police Accountability)

Records released in two high-profile San Francisco police shootings

Department of Police Accountability releases files in Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez cases

San Francisco’s police watchdog agency dropped a massive amount of records Wednesday afternoon on two high-profile police shootings.

The documents show the Department of Police Accountability did not sustain allegations of wrongdoing against the four officers who shot Alex Nieto, 28, at Bernal Hill Park in 2014, or the two plainclothes cops who opened fire on 20-year-old Amilcar Perez-Lopez in the Mission nearly a year later.

The more than 1,000 pages of newly released documents include crime scene photographs, summaries of the DPA’s findings and transcripts of lengthy interviews with the officers involved. While much of the substance included in the files has already been aired, the documents add new details to the cases.

The DPA released the documents in response to a public records request that the San Francisco Examiner filed under Senate Bill 1421, which has required agencies to disclose certain law enforcement records.

The Nieto and Perez-Lopez shootings stirred outrage and calls for then-Police Chief Greg Suhr to resign. While Suhr ultimately stepped down in the fallout of another police shooting in 2016, District Attorney George Gascon declined to press charges against the officers who shot the men.

In 2016, a civil lawsuit over the Nieto shooting went before a federal jury, which found the officers did not use excessive force despite firing 59 shots at Nieto in rapid succession. Attorneys for police argued that Nieto pointed a stun gun at the officers and pulled the trigger.

The Perez-Lopez shooting, meanwhile, resulted in a $275,000 settlement last year between his family and The City. Police said Perez-Lopez was chasing a man with a large knife, but supporters pointed to an independent autopsy that showed officers shot him in the back.

In the Nieto case, the DPA investigated 16 allegations related to the shooting, including that Lt. Jason Sawyer and officers Nathan Chew, Roger Morse and Richard Schiff used excessive force by discharging their firearms.

The DPA, which fields allegations of police misconduct from the public and can recommend disciplinary charges, was called the Office of Citizen Complaints at the time. In 2015, the agency found that the officers acted properly and lawfully by shooting when Nieto drew a Taser.

“The officers reasonably perceived the suspect’s weapon to be a lethal weapon,” the DPA found. “At that moment, the named officers had reasonable cause to believe that they were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury from the suspect.”

Supporters said Nieto had a stun gun because he worked as a security guard.

Another allegation accused police of behaving inappropriately, citing the statements that Suhr made at a public meeting shortly after the shooting.

“There was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove that the behavior and comments were inappropriate,” the DPA found.

None of the allegations were sustained.

The San Francisco Police Department has found that the officers acted within department policy.

In the Perez-Lopez case, the DPA also did not sustain any allegations and found that the officers acted properly when they discharged their weapons.

The DPA said that officers Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe had “reasonable cause to believe that they and another person were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”

The investigation found that an argument had escalated to the point where Perez-Lopez was chasing a man he knew with a knife when police arrived.

Police said Perez-Lopez swiped or lunged at the officers, but supporters argued that police shot him after he dropped the knife and was running away.

In his interview with the DPA, Tiffe told an investigator that Perez-Lopez had a “blood lust crazed” look on his face.

“I’m thinking he’s trying to kill someone,” Tiffe said.” Now, he’s just trying to kill me. So, I’m thinking this guy’s full-blown, going to go through with it. But there’s the human side of me. All I remember thinking is, ‘God, please make him drop the knife. I don’t want to shoot.’”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

 

A crime scene photograph of a knife from the 2015 police shooting of Amilcar Perez-Lopez. (Courtesy Department of Police Accountability)

A crime scene photograph of a discharged stun gun from the 2014 police shooting of Alex Nieto. (Courtesy Department of Police Accountability)

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