Vigil stirs angst as Nieto family prepares lawsuit 

click to enlarge Alejandro Nieto
  • Alex Leber/Special to the S.f. examiner
  • Elvira, left, and Refugio Nieto attend a vigil Thursday at Bernal Heights Park for their son Alejandro, 28, who was shot and killed near the location five months earlier.

The fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has sparked protests in that St. Louis suburb and highlighted fatal police shootings across the country in recent days.

In San Francisco, activists and lawyers are pointing to the shooting death of Alejandro Nieto by police earlier this year as one more example of law enforcement's overuse of lethal force.

Thursday marked the five-month anniversary of Nieto's death atop Bernal Heights Park.

That anniversary was marked with a sunset vigil, where a crowd of roughly 30 people stood Thursday around an altar on the spot where the 28-year-old San Francisco resident was killed March 21. The Nieto family lawyer is expected to file a civil-rights lawsuit today against the Police Department in relation to the officer-involved fatal shooting.

Nieto's death at the hands of police, vigil attendee Oscar Salinas said, is just another example of the conflicts between black or brown people and police.

"It brings to light what's been happening, what's always been happening for a long time," Salinas said.

Another memorial attendee, David De la Rosa, lamented, "You don't have white youth being shot in that way. It only happens in poor neighborhoods."

For Ben Bac Sierra, a friend of Nieto who was also at the vigil, the shooting in Ferguson goes hand-in-hand with Nieto's death.

The slow pace of the investigation has only made things worse, said Bac Sierra, who noted that in Ferguson, police released the name of the officer as well as the autopsy results. That has not been the case in San Francisco, he said.

Nieto was shot to death after being asked to show his hands to officers who were responding to reports of a man with a gun in the park, police said. Instead, police said Nieto drew a stun gun that was mistaken for a real gun.

The names of the officers involved in the incident were never released by police because they say a credible threat of harm exists.

Bay Area civil-rights lawyer John Burris, whose firm is representing the Nieto family, said he plans to file a civil-rights lawsuit against the Police Department today.

His law firm's investigation into the shooting found "evidence that contradicts what the police have said." Namely, an eyewitness said Nieto did not pull the stun gun he had on him. The witness also told lawyers that police did not give warning before shooting.

Police have not said how many times Nieto was shot, but an inspection of his body by investigators working for Burris found at least 10 bullet holes, according to the attorney.

On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security sent out a warning of a planned National Day of Rage in response to the officer-involved killing in Ferguson.

The department warned that San Francisco's Civic Center was one of numerous locales nationwide where protests may occur.

The call for such protests, according to the release, come from the hacktivist group Anonymous, an "international network ... known for a series of distributed denial-of-service attacks on government, religious and corporate websites as well as with individuals associated with the group wearing Guy Fawkes masks."

Despite the warnings, Civic Center Plaza was mostly empty Thursday afternoon, all but for a handful of police who had gathered for a protest that never materialized.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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