Mounting tensions: Threat aimed at SFPD linked to death of Bernal Heights man 

click to enlarge Police
  • Mike Koozmin/2011 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Police have faced criticism from the public in recent weeks after three officer-involved shootings, one of them fatal, in March.
An anonymous call to the Police Department vowing revenge for the death of Alejandro Nieto, a 28-year-old man from Bernal Heights who was shot and killed by officers recently, has prompted the department to warn its officers to be on high alert while doing their jobs, according to multiple police sources.

“There had been threats made against San Francisco police officers,” Officer Albie Esparza said when asked about the phone call. “We do take any threat serious and [the matter] is being investigated.”

The anonymous threat comes as tensions between the community and police are high following three officer-involved shootings in March.

On March 21, one of those shootings resulted in the death of Nieto, who had reportedly pulled out a stun gun and pointed it at police. Mistaking it for a handgun, officers shot Nieto to death.

The other two shootings did not result in anyone’s death. But in a March 8 incident in the Mission, an officer was shot during a traffic stop, possibly by his partner.

The most recent officer-involved shooting was last weekend in North Beach when an officer’s pistol went off by accident when a suspect’s car door slammed into it.

Tensions reached a peak after Nieto’s death — the 33rd person who died in officer-involved death cases since 2000, according to data recently released by the department.

Emotions were running high last week during a community meeting when Police Chief Greg Suhr told a large and angry crowd — some calling for violence against cops — about the details of Nieto’s death. Even Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission, had harsh words for police at the meeting.

Things have not calmed in the ensuing days.

On March 26, protesters — many holding signs asking for justice for Nieto — “hijacked” much of the Police Commission meeting in the Tenderloin, in the words of one commissioner.

Then on March 29, about 100 protesters, including some of Nieto’s family, marched through the Mission with a police escort to the location of Nieto’s death in Bernal Heights Park.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Police Officers Association is upset at what it says were disparaging remarks made by Campos at the community meeting on Nieto’s shooting. Specifically, Campos is being taken to task for comments questioning police conduct in the case and the investigation.

“Your public comments are inexcusable,” noted a March 28 letter SFPOA President Martin Halloran sent to Campos. “I wonder if you made these comments because you are seeking higher office? But I also wonder why you were not so outspoken and equally concerned two weeks ago when one of my members was wounded on the job in the Mission District?”

Campos did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Now comes news of threats against officers, which police officials have little to say about.

“Details about the incident are not available as this is being investigated,” Esparza wrote in an email. “Officers were informed department wide to exercise high officer safety tactics when out in the public due to these threats.”

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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