By Alex Emslie
KQED has obtained San Francisco Police Department dispatch audio that details officers’ response to a call about a man with a holstered weapon at Bernal Heights Park and the aftermath of the fatal officer-involved shooting of 28-year-old Alejandro Nieto.
The March 21 shooting has stirred heated controversy between residents of central San Francisco’s Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods and the police department. Police Chief Greg Suhr said Nieto, who carried a Taser for his job as a security guard, pointed the weapon at responding officers and “tracked” them with a laser sight. He said officers, who were 75 feet from Nieto when they fired, thought the pistol-shaped, brightly colored Taser was a handgun.
But Mission and Bernal Heights residents who knew Nieto say it’s unbelievable for him to have pointed the weapon at officers. Nieto often volunteered with neighborhood youth. He was a City College of San Francisco criminal justice student and aspiring juvenile probation officer who had interned with the city’s probation department.
The audio surrounding the March 21 incident was obtained from Broadcastify.com, which maintains an archive of San Francisco Police Department radio dispatch.
The audio mostly matches up with Suhr’s March 25 description of the calls and response. But it also confirms the assertions of Nieto’s family and friends that he wasn’t acting erratically before he was shot.
The radio chatter started about 7:11 p.m. on March 21. Dispatch relays a call to Ingleside Station police, describing a man “in bright red jacket, 6’1, 200 pounds, black pants, has a gun on his hip.”
Police said after the incident that Nieto never had a gun, but that the caller might have mistaken his hip-holstered Taser for a handgun.
About one minute, 15 seconds later, more information comes over the radio.
“He’s got a gun at his hip and is pacing back and forth on the north side of the park near a chain-link fence.”
Another minute passes and a police officer asks for an update on the call about a person with a gun in Bernal Heights.
“He’s eating chips or sunflower seeds,” dispatch responds, apparently relaying information from the person who called police.
At about 7:17 p.m., an officer spots someone:
“Hey there’s a guy in a red shirt way up the hill walking toward you guys.”
Then another officer responds, “I got a guy right here.”
And 25 seconds later, an officer shouts, “Shots fired! Shots fired!” Another two officers also tell dispatch that shots have been fired, and one announces an emergency “code 33.”
More police officers radio that they are responding to an incident that quickly changed from a code 221 (person with gun) to 217 (shooting).
Police closed off the north side of Bernal Heights Park and cleared the way for an ambulance. They also transport two witnesses, one who they refer to as the “original 909” (code for a citizen requesting interview) to Ingleside Station and begin canvassing the park for other people who may have seen the shooting. Police are repeatedly requested to switch to a different radio channel to discuss the shooting, so this audio may not include all of the chatter about the incident.
The dispatch audio did not capture the sounds of the shooting, but Nieto’s friend, Ben Bac Sierra, said he obtained audio of what sounds like multiple gunshots from a nearby private security camera. Nieto was pronounced dead that evening.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, whose office is representing Nieto’s parents in a claim against the city, said an independent viewing of Nieto’s body showed at least 10 gunshot wounds, including one to Nieto’s forehead. He said they had not yet obtained the dispatch tapes.