Alex Nieto case heads to civil jury

A civil rights lawsuit filed against four San Francisco police officers by the parents of a slain man was put into the hands of a federal jury in The City Wednesday.

Elvira and Refugio Nieto claim the four officers used unconstitutional excessive force when they fatally shot the couple’s son, 28-year-old Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, in a barrage of as many as 59 gunshots in 30 seconds at Bernal Heights Park on March 21, 2014.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins gave the case to an eight-member civil jury for deliberation shortly after noon, following closing arguments this morning on the seventh day of trial.

The officers, who had responded to a report of a man with a gun, contend that Nieto pointed a weapon they believed to be a gun directly at them and that they believed their lives were in danger. The device was a Taser stun gun.

The parents’ lawyer, Adante Pointer, told the jury during his closing argument that the officers robbed Nieto’s parents of “years they might have spent with their son” by failing to come up with a tactical approach to determine whether he was in fact carrying a gun.

“When you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. This failure resulted in a 28-year-old man being dead,” Pointer told the jury.

“They went into a dangerous conflict and shot their way out of it,” he said.

Deputy City Attorney Margaret Baumgartner, representing the officers, argued that they had no alternative but to use lethal force after Nieto allegedly pointed the device at them from 25 to 30 yards away.

“They had no time at all. They had to act continuously with the threat they had in front of them,” Baumgartner contended.

In addition to unconstitutional excessive use of force, the parents’ lawsuit claims deprivation of their constitutional right to a familial relationship with their son.

A third claim of wrongful death under California law was dropped from the case on Tuesday.

The parents’ lawyers asked the jury to award financial compensation for their son’s pain and suffering as he lay dying and for their loss of his comfort and companionship.

The four officers are Lt. Jason Sawyer, who was a sergeant at the time, and Officers Richard Schiff, Nathan Chew and Roger Morse.