I-Team: San Francisco officers testify in Alex Nieto civil trial

Dan Noyes Image
Thursday, March 3, 2016
I-Team: SF cops testify in Alex Nieto civil trial
Only ABC7 News was there when four San Francisco police officers arrived at federal court on Wednesday to testify in the wrongful death lawsuit against them. The core question now - was the shooting that killed Alex Nieto justified?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Only ABC7 News was there Wednesday when four San Francisco police officers arrived at federal court to testify in the wrongful death lawsuit against them. There is no disputing that together the officers fired 59 shots, killing Alex Nieto in Bernal Heights Park. The core question now -- was the shooting justified?

The first person called to the stand was a rookie cop who was on a training run that night. He fired the most shots of any officer.

The four officers were the first witnesses to testify in the wrongful death lawsuit, brought by the family of Nieto who died nearly two years ago in Bernal Heights Park after the officers fired 59 shots at him.

First on the stand was 25-year-old Richard Schiff, a rookie just 2.5 months on the job at the time of the shooting. He was driving the patrol car on a training run with a senior officer as passenger.

Schiff testified the radio call came about a "man with a gun" and that he thought the suspect could have been a Norteno gang member because he was wearing a red San Francsico 49ers jacket.

RELATED: I-Team: Alex Nieto wrongful death trial begins against 4 SFPD cops

Schiff arrived at the scene and drove past two other patrol cars into the park. He testified he and his training officer flung the doors open, pulled their .40 caliber handguns, and shouted for Nieto to show his hands. Schiff testified that Nieto answered, "No, show me your hands," and that he reached for a gun that had a red laser sight.

Schiff emptied his gun -- 13 shots -- but testified Nieto was still standing with his weapon aiming at the officers. Schiff reloaded and kept firing; a total of 23 shots.

"You can't say something's a threat, it has to be a credible threat, an imminent threat, is it reasonable?" said Nieto family attorney Adante Pointer. "An officer is not allowed to just say because someone is a threat that makes it a threat. So it has to be evaluated. Is that something that's reasonable or credible or not."

RELATED: New info surfaces in SFPD shooting of Alex Nieto

Schiff also testified when he first arrived, he locked eyes with Nieto from 90 feet away, and that he gave the officer an angry look with raised cheekbones and a furrowed forehead. Nieto family attorney Pointer asked whether Schiff remembered that Nieto was wearing a Niners baseball cap and sunglasses. Schiff said he did not.

"We don't believe that the fact that that is not what he noticed and that he doesn't remember seeing those things means anything about whether he was justified to use lethal force in this particular situation," said SF Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner.

RELATED: Protesters mark anniversary of Alex Nieto shooting by SF police

Nieto did not have a gun that night. It was a Taser he used for his job as a nightclub bouncer. Still at issue is whether he actually pulled the Taser from a holster and aimed it at the officers. One plaintiffs witness will testify he had his hands in his jacket pockets when the police opened fire.

Schiff also testified his father is an SFPD officer and met him at the station before he gave a statement in the shooting. Pointer asked if he concocted a story because he was ashamed about killing someone. Schiff answered, "Absolutely not."

Click here to take a look at investigative reports from the ABC7 News I-Team.