SFPD chief faces upset community over shooting

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr faced an upset, vocal crowd at a town hall meeting Tuesday night, regarding the Bernal Heights Park shooting.
March 25, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr faced the community to give his department's side of why officers shot and killed a man in Bernal Heights Park. The victim's family and friends are calling the shooting "unjustified." The chief refused to answer questions until Tuesday.

Tuesday evening, Suhr stood before some outraged community members in a town hall meeting answering questions about why police shot 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto on Friday.

ABC7 News spoke to Suhr earlier on Tuesday as he prepared for the hot seat at Leonard Flynn Elementary School in the Mission District. Many want to know what were the circumstances leading up to the shooting death of Nieto, how many shots were fired, if he had a gun or a Taser.

"The officers, when they were responding, they were responding to a man with a gun call in the dark," said Suhr.

Suhr says based on what he knows about the tragedy at Bernal Heights Park, he is not second guessing his officers. They shot and killed Nieto last Friday night. Some witnesses told ABC7 News as many as 14 rounds were fired. Officers say Nieto pointed a weapon at them. Friends insist it was a Taser not a gun.

"The police should be trained to understand the difference between a pistol and a Taser gun," said Benjamin Bac Sierra, a friend of Nieto's.

"I believe, knowing what I know right now, that the officers were acting in defense of their lives," said Suhr.

Family, including his father, and friends held a vigil at the park Monday night, remembering a young man who was a community activist and practicing Buddhist, who wanted to become a probation officer.

But there were also concerns about his mental health. A former friend said Nieto was violent, injuring him with a Taser earlier this month.

Witnesses at the park said Nieto was acting erratically, but from talking to Suhr, it's unclear if officers knew that at the time.

"It turns out we find out later that he did have a history of mental illness, which makes it that much more tragic," said Suhr.

Supervisor David Campos, who represents the neighborhood, says police have a special unit to deal with mental health issues.

"There was a new tactical team that was created for that purpose. One question that I have is was that team involved in this incident? Did they call upon that team," said Campos.

The meeting, which lasted four hours, was a tense one. On one side was the police chief explaining why a man armed with a Taser was shot and killed. On the other side were the dead man's friends and supporters who are outraged at the use of deadly force.

We learned the man shot by police did not have a gun, but a Taser. The chief said when officers approached him, he drew the weapon. Suhr was shouted down by the angry crowd.

"This is the actual weapon Mr. Nieto had," said Suhr to the crowd, showing off a Taser.

Suhr says Nieto was carrying a Taser in a holster, which resembles a real gun when compared side by side. He says 911 calls reported a man acting strangely and holding his weapon in the park. Responding officers were 75 feet from Nieto when they shouted a command.

"They asked Mr. Nieto to show his hands, to which he responded, 'You need to show your hands.' And then hew dew his firearm," said Suhr.

Witnesses say police fired as many as a dozen shots killing Nieto, but most did not buy the chiefs explanation.

Police say Nieto could not legally carry a weapon because he had a history of mental illness, but friends deny that.

"I hope the truth comes out and I demand that we get an outside investigation into this entire ordeal," said Bac Sierra.

Police say they would welcome that. Friends of Nieto are planning a protest march later this week.

ABC7 News reporter Cornell Barnard contributed to this report.


Load Comments