SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – As protests over a police shooting subsided in Ferguson, Mo. on Friday, more than 100 people gathered outside the San Francisco Federal Courthouse to protest the police killing of Alex Nieto, who was shot to death in March. In a lawsuit filed Friday, the family doubts the police version of the shooting.
Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, 28, was killed in Bernal Heights Park on March 21 after someone called police about an armed man in the area. Nieto, a security guard and a City College student, was equipped with a Taser.
Police say Nieto defied orders and pointed the Taser at them when they approached.
But his parents claim in a federal lawsuit that an independent investigation reveals a different story.
After filing the lawsuit, the Nietos’ attorney, John Burris, appeared at a rally outside the courthouse, when many of the more than 100 people in attendance held signs and wore T-shirts with Nieto’s face on it.
“Police in various cities are engaged in Wild West conduct,” Burris told the crowd. “The only way to control this is you have to sue them.”
Burris said that the San Francisco Police Department has not been cooperative in releasing information, and still has not released the names of the officers involved in the killing.
Nieto’s parents filed a claim with San Francisco in April, which the city rejected in May, “without providing a scintilla of information as to why,” according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the events unfolded like this: Nieto left home the night he was killed to go to his job as a security guard for a nearby restaurant. He bought a burrito on the way, and ate it on a bench at Bernal Heights Park. While he was in the park, someone called the police, saying that Nieto had a black gun on his hip. This was actually a black and yellow Taser Nieto legally carried for his job.
When police arrived, Nieto was walking down a jogging trail near the park’s entrance. Several officers were there, one of whom, from behind a patrol car, ordered Nieto to stop.
“Within seconds a quick volley of bullets were fired at Nieto,” the lawsuit states. “No additional orders or any other verbal communication was heard between the first officer yelling ‘stop’ and the initial volley of gunfire.”
Afterward, police said Nieto did not follow orders to show his hands, but pointed his Taser as the officers. But an independent investigation led by Burris and community members found witnesses who contradict the authorities’ story, according to the lawsuit.
At the rally, Burris called the police narrative “flat-out wrong.”
“Lies!” yelled someone from the crowd.
The lawsuit claims that the SFPD has a pattern of using excessive force against citizens. Since 2000 there have been 97 officer-involved shootings, in which 33 people have died.
“There was no basis to shoot him, and they essentially shot him to pieces, I’m sorry to say,” Burris said.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian reported shortly after the shooting that during a town hall meeting, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr claimed that when officers asked Nieto to show his hands, he pulled a Taser from his holster.
Nieto also verbally challenged officers when they asked him to drop his weapon, the chief said.
The San Francisco Police Department did not return a call for comment on Friday.
The defendants in the Nietos’ lawsuit are the City and County of San Francisco, and Police Chief Suhr.
Nieto’s parents, Refugio and Elvira, demand punitive damages for wrongful death, violation of the Fourth Amendment, other civil rights charges, battery, negligence, and funeral expenses.
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