SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A wrongful death lawsuit filed against four San Francisco police officers by the parents of a man fatally shot by the officers two years ago is scheduled to go to a federal jury on Wednesday.
The eight-member civil jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Nathanael Cousins in San Francisco is expected to begin deliberating in the early afternoon on the lawsuit filed by Elvira and Refugio Nieto, following jury instructions and closing arguments in the morning.
The couple’s son, Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, 28, was killed on the evening of March 21, 2014, in Bernal Heights Park by officers firing as many as 59 bullets within 30 seconds.
Nieto was on his way to a security guard job at a local nightclub and was carrying a Taser stun gun.
The four officers, who had responded to a report of a man with a gun, testified during the trial that Nieto pointed the device at them from 25 to 30 yards away and that they believed it was a real gun and their lives were in danger.
That testimony was contradicted by a dog walker called as a witness by lawyers for the Nietos, who testified that Nieto kept his hands in his pockets and never pointed any object at the officers.
The trial began March 1. The evidentiary phase of the trial ended Tuesday afternoon with testimony from a final witness called by City Attorney’s Office lawyers who are defending the officers.
The witness, Don Cameron, is an expert on police training. He testified that under the officers’ version of the incident, the police acted reasonably and in accordance with their training.
“You have what is basically a deadly fire threat,” he told the jury.
The four officers are Lt. Jason Sawyer, who was a sergeant at the time, and Officers Richard Schiff, Nathan Chew and Roger Morse.
Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner queried Cameron by posing a series of hypothetical questions about situations that matched the details alleged by the officers in their earlier testimony.
She asked whether officers should continue giving warnings after a person appears to have reached for a gun.
“When the person’s hands have made a movement to produce a firearm, I think the talking’s over. You’ve got to react to it,” Cameron answered.
Cameron’s view conflicted with that of another police practices expert, Roger Clark, who testified on behalf of the Nietos on Monday. Clark said the officers should have taken more time to observe Nieto from a distance and given him more explicit warnings before shooting.
The lawsuit is based on claims of wrongful death under state law and excessive use of force and deprivation of familial relationship under the U.S. Constitution.
It asks the jury to award an unspecified amount of financial compensation for items such as lost wages and funeral expenses as well as an additional punitive financial award.
Cousins told lawyers in the case Tuesday that following his jury instructions, the Nietos’ attorneys will have one hour and 15 minutes for closing argument, including rebuttal, and the defense will have one hour.
He said he expected the case to go to the jury by noon.