District Attorney Releases Report on Alex Nieto Shooting, Will Not Press Charges Against SFPD Officers

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The San Francisco District Attorney decided to release some important news late Friday afternoon, likely in the hope that you wouldn’t pay much attention over the holiday weekend. So Bernalwood brings you this news today, in the hope that you are now paying very, very close attention…

Last week, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced that the four SFPD officers who participated in the March, 2014 officer-involved shooting death of Cortland resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill will not face criminal charges as a result of the incident.

Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle summarizes DA Gascón’s report:

Gascón’s report said all four officers had “continued to believe their lives were in danger … until Mr. Nieto’s head and weapon went down.”

The four — Lt. Jason Sawyer and Officers Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew — had responded to witness reports that Nieto, a 28-year-old Mission resident, had a gun and was acting erratically on March 21.

The officers “saw what appeared to be a gun as soon as they encountered him on a hill,” the district attorney’s report said. “Mr. Nieto refused to obey orders to show his hands and, instead, immediately drew and pointed his weapon at the officers.”

At a news conference, Gascón added, “Given the circumstances, I’m not sure this was a preventable shooting.” In such instances, he said, “a shooting is likely to occur. It is lawful. It is clearly constitutional, and I’m not sure there is much that could have been done to prevent it.” […]

Gascón’s report to [SFPD Chief Greg Suhr] provided the most detailed account by authorities of the shooting. It said that on March 3, less than three weeks before he was killed, Nieto was accused of firing a Taser at the estranged husband of a friend.

On the day of the police shooting, prosecutors said, several dog walkers at Bernal Heights Park reported feeling threatened by Nieto. One witness told investigators Nieto had pulled what looked like a pistol from his holster and pointed it at his dog — the animal had taken interest in a bag of chips Nieto was eating — before realizing it was a Taser.

“When he turned it into profile and aimed it at my dog, that’s when I could tell that it was a Taser just because of the size of the muzzle area,” the witness said.

The witness said he begged Nieto not to shoot his dog with the Taser, telling him the dog wasn’t aggressive and “just wants some chips,” according to the report. Nieto aimed the Taser at the witness and yelled expletives, the report said, before the witness left the park, while warning others about Nieto.

After Schiff and Sawyer arrived, in uniform, and ordered Nieto to show his hands, Nieto allegedly walked toward them, lifted his sweatshirt to expose a black holster, and shouted back at the officers, “Let me see your hands!” Nieto then “squared off with them in a defensive stance,” the report said, drew what turned out to be the Taser and pointed it directly at officers.

Schiff and Sawyer, who was then a sergeant, opened fire, authorities said. Nieto fell to the ground with his hands in front of him, police said. Schiff reported seeing a red light coming from the object Nieto was carrying and “thought it might be a laser sight. Both officers believed Mr. Nieto was still trying to fire back at them, and continued to fire,” the report said.

For better or worse, Gascón’s long-overdue report now stands as the most detailed official chronology of the events that took place on Bernal Hill on March 21, 2014. You can read the complete text of Gascón’s report to SFPD Chief Suhr right here (PDF); It paints an unsettling picture of the scene that evening. An excerpt:

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Responding on behalf of Neighbor Alex Nieto’s family and friends at the Justice4AlexNieto website, Ben Bac Sierra says DA Gascón’s report is not credible:

Scholarship student and security guard Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at San Francisco Police Officers Sawyer and Schiff. There is at least one witness who saw everything and emphatically confirms that Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at officers. This witness was never interviewed for the district attorney’s report.

But for one moment let’s forget the witness. The district attorney’s report accepts the police department narrative: two veteran San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) police officers have their weapons drawn aiming directly at Alex Nieto who is eating a bag of chips walking down the hill. Both officers KNOW he has a firearm. These two READY police officers then allow Alex to square off with them, reach into his holster (they KNOW he has a gun), and they allow Alex to point this “gun” directly at them BEFORE they finally make the decision to start shooting at him 59 times.

This tale is ridiculous and unbelievable, yet they expect us to accept it.

There was no reason for Alex to have been shot at 59 times! This entire sham is a cover up to hide the SFPD’s incompetence, lack of fire discipline, and illegal and intimidating investigation. They will not take responsibility for killing an innocent, promising young man, Alex Nieto, our brother.

While no charges will be filed against the SFPD officers, other aspects of Neighbor Alex Nieto’s case are ongoing. Mike Koozmin from the San Francisco Examiner describes the next steps:

Gascon said today that he recognizes that Nieto’s death was a tragedy and has offered to meet with Nieto’s family members, but that they have so far declined to meet with him. While the district attorney’s office has concluded that the police officers believed they were in imminent danger when they discharged their weapon, Gascon wrote in his letter to the chief of police that his office did not examine issues such as compliance with the policies and procedures of the San Francisco Police Department or ways to improve training or tactics. The letter also does not address any issues related to civil liability.

Gascon has also recommended the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for further investigation.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Nieto family against the city for violation of Nieto’s civil rights, on the grounds that police officers allegedly used excessive force against him, is pending.

 IMAGE: Photo illustration by Telstar Logistics

Awesome Volunteers Help Make City-Owned Land Look Gorgeous Again

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Remember the volunteer work party that joined forces with the San Francisco Department of Public Works last Saturday to spiffify that (formerly) neglected City-owned lot on Ellsworth at Bernal Heights Boulevard?

By all accounts, the effort was a big success. Neighbor John sent this note to Jerad Weiner, DPW’s community liaison, to celebrate the glorious collaboration:

Jerad,

Many thanks for the email and for working with us to fluff the garden. It looks 1,000 percent better already! I am going up tomorrow morning to finish smoothing the mulch out and doing a little more pruning. The birds have never been so happy – there were many of them alighting on the fresh mulch.

Other than that, the project is a complete success. Thanks to DPW for the chips and for hauling away the debris. And thanks to you for your help – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Bravo, Citizens! Bravo DPW! Way to take charge, take names, and look sexy while getting it done.

PHOTOS: Top two, John Blacburn. Bottom, John Cremer. With thanks from Bernalwood

Saturday: Join the Volunteer Effort to Clean Up that City-Owned Lot on Ellsworth

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Remember that squalid-ass patch of City-owned land at the top of Ellsworth near the summit of Bernal Hill? The lot teeming with overgrown plants and assorted organic yuck? After Bernalwood wrote about it, several lazy hard-hitting local TV news crews stole the story without attribution followed-up on Bernal neighbors’ concerns, so the neglected lot is now getting some love.

Tomorrow, Saturday, January 17,  from 9 am to noon there will be a volunteer effort to clean up the spot and make it unyucky, and you’re invited:

Join your neighbors and San Francisco Public Works to help spruce and prune the lot at Bernal Heights and Ellsworth. Please wear work clothing and closed toe shoes.

DPW staff will provide tools, gloves, mulch, and other supplies to the work day. Call 415-641-2637 to RSVP or with any questions.

UPDATE: In the comments, bernalkc makes a clarification:

Incomplete reporting here!

After you wrote this, a city crew of four spent a rainy day cleaning up the lot. They did a decent first cut at excavating a lot of the overgrowth. Another round of work on the lot will be useful. But give credit to the city for responding to the heat applied here and by the media.

Thank you bernalkc, and thank you All-Weather, All-Terrain City Workers!

Did You Know? The Board of Supervisors Eliminated Off-Street Parking Requirements

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EDITOR’S NOTE 8 Jan., 2014: This article and its headline has been revised to reflect updated information provided by the San Francisco Planning Department. Writer Brandon Powell reached out to the Planning Department several times while reporting, but the Department provided clarification only after the original article was published.

There are two topics about which many Bernalese — nay, many San Franciscans — tend to have very strong opinions: parking and housing.

Neighbor Brandon Powell calls our attention to a change that was recently made to planning requirements here in Bernal Heights — a change which will impact both the design of new housing and the inventory of on-street parking here. Neighbor Brandon sits on the Northwest Bernal Heights Design Review Board, and in that capacity he shares these details about changes to the City’s planning requirements that have come to his attention. Neighbor Brandon reports:

This is the language establishing the planning rules that govern the Bernal Heights Special Use District:

“In order to reflect the special characteristics and hillside topography of an area of the City that has a collection of older buildings situated on lots generally smaller than the lot patterns in other low-density areas of the City, and to encourage development in context and scale with the established character, there shall be a Bernal Heights Special Use District.”

Since January 1991, new construction in Bernal, or alterations to existing structures which expand the building’s envelope, are subject to the restrictions of the Bernal Heights Special Use District outlined in Section 242 of the planning code. One of the key elements of Section 242 is the requirement to provide off-street parking, with the number of off-street spaces tied to the square footage of the building.

The City’s approach to parking—and the philosophy behind that approach—has evolved since 1991, and today Transit First is the order of the day. Rather than enshrining the automobile and its use in the Planning Code, the City has progressively scaled back parking requirements for new developments, especially for multi-unit buildings near transit nodes.

In July 2013, the Board of Supervisors approved the addition Section 150(e) to the Planning Code which allows for the substitution of permanent bicycle parking for off-street automobile parking:

(e) Reduction and Replacement of Off-Street Parking Spaces. Notwithstanding subsection (d) above, off-street parking spaces may be reduced and replaced by bicycle parking spaces based on standards provided in Section 155.1(d) of this Code. Once bicycle parking spaces replace an automobile parking space, such bicycle parking shall not be reduced or eliminated. Such bicycle parking spaces may be converted back to automobile parking space, provided that the required numbers of bicycle parking spaces subject to Sections 155.2 and 155.3 of this Code are still met after removal of bicycle parking spaces.

In practical terms, the City no longer requires that new construction (or substantial additions to existing homes) include off-street car parking. This is a fairly radical change to the Planning Code, but there are strong arguments in favor of having market forces determine the demand for car parking and letting developers figure out how best to satisfy that demand.

A holistic approach, however, demands that the City simultaneously address the issue of free street parking. If there is no longer a requirement for property owners to provide car parking, there likely will be increased demand for the limited number of street-parking spaces and more conflict between neighbors.

PHOTO: Folsom Street in Bernal Heights, by Telstar Logistics

Names of SFPD Officers Involved in Alex Nieto Shooting Released

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Last Friday, and at long last, the San Francisco Police Department released the names of the officers involved in the March 21, 2014 shooting death of Bernal Heights resident Alex Nieto. Reporter Vivian Ho from the SF Chronicle has the story:

San Francisco police on Friday released the names of four officers involved in the shooting death last spring of a longtime Mission District resident after months of demands for accountability from the man’s family.

Lt. Jason Sawyer and Officers Roger Morse, Richard Schiff and Nathan Chew were involved in the fatal shooting of Alejandro Nieto, 28, on Bernal Hill on March 21, police said.

Police said the officers had been responding to reports of a man with a gun at Bernal Heights Park who was acting erratically and threatening passersby when they came across Nieto eating his dinner.

Nieto had been carrying a Taser stun gun before his shift as a nightclub security guard. Authorities said Nieto brandished the weapon at the officers. Nieto’s friends and family say they do not believe he would have done that.

Vivian Ho also did the legwork on the background of the officers involved:

Lt. Sawyer, now of Park Station, was a sergeant at the time of the shooting and a longtime veteran of the department. In 1998, he was involved in the fatal shooting of ad executive John Smart after Smart allegedly used his Mercedes-Benz to pin Officer Ian Furminger to a parking meter.

Both officers were awarded the gold medal of valor for their involvement in the 1998 shooting, though an internal investigation and Office of Citizens Complaints probe had not been completed. Furminger was convicted last month of taking and dividing up thousands of dollars found during searches of drug dealers and their homes, and depriving suspects of their rights.

Sawyer was awarded a bronze medal of valor in 2007, and was awarded another medal of valor in 2013 for his response to a hostage situation in a central city neighborhood. He, along with Morse, Schiff and Chew, have returned to duty, said police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza

PHOTO: Alex Nieto via Amitis Motevalli

Peaceful March Remembers Neighbor Alex Nieto as Shooting Investigation Drags On

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Turnout was strong, peaceful, and focused during yesterday’s march and memorial to mark the nine-month anniversary of Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto’s death in an SFPD officer-involved shooting on March 21, 2014. Yesterday’s march to remember Alex began on 24th Street in the Mission before heading up to the spot on Bernal Hill where Neighbor Alex was killed. Our friends at Mission Local had reporter Daniel Hirsch on hand at the rally:

The march was peaceful and no police officers were noticeable on scene. It began with a rally at the Bart Plaza on Mission and 24th Street around 4 p.m.. When those gathered began to move what started as a procession along the sidewalk quickly spilled onto the street, blocking traffic along 24th Street in several directions. Led by Aztec dancers and chants of “No Justice, No Peace, Stop the Racist Police,” the march lingered at the corner of Folsom and 24th Street for several minutes, before making its way up to the top of Bernal Hill [for] a ceremony honoring the dead.

MissionLocal also captured video of the march; click through to watch.

Bernalwood will provide updates if SFPD or City officials release any more information about Neighbor Alex Nieto’s death as part of an ongoing investigation that remains shamefully slow and opaque.

PHOTO: Daniel Hirsch for MissionLocal 

Ellsworth Neighbors Frustrated by Overgrown, City-Owned Land Near Bernal Hill

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Neighbor Leslie is frustrated by the neglect of a small parcel of City-owned land on Ellsworth near the summit of Bernal Hill:

The residents on Ellsworth st near the hill have been getting nowhere with the City on maintaining a green space at Ellsworth and Bernal Heights Blvd.

The lot is full of debris and so overgrown that you can’t walk on the sidewalk. For years, a woman who lived next to the lot maintained it herself(!) by hiring people to landscape it.

She passed away or was put in a nursing home years ago… I’ve lived here for five years and no one has touched it.

Since September, I have contacted the city about the lot on a regular basis (first 311 and then DPW). No one has gotten back to me. Since November, I and other neighbors have been talking to Supervisor Campos’ office. Nothing still.

That corner is a gateway to our neighborhood. Instead of being a greenspace, it harbors rats and countless used condoms (we get a lot of prostitutes and johns at night along the hill) and other waste.

PHOTOS: Neighbor Leslie