Alex Nieto memorial approved for Bernal Hill

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 9-1 in support of a memorial in Bernal Heights Park marking the death of Alex Nieto, a 28-year-old man shot and killed by police in 2014.

The resolution introduced by Supervisor John Avalos does not specify what form the memorial will take but calls for the Recreation and Parks department to install it along a paved path after a community consultation process on the design.

Nieto was carrying a Taser stun gun in preparation for his job as a security guard at a nightclub when he was shot and killed by police in the park on the evening of March 21, 2014.

The shooting spurred anger in the community and was the subject of a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force that went to trial earlier this year.

Police officers, who were responding to a report of a man with a gun in the park, testified that Nieto had pointed the stun gun directly at them and that they thought it was a real gun.

An eight-member jury found the police officers not guilty of wrongdoing in March.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, the lone vote against the memorial, argued that approving the memorial sent a message to police officers that Nieto’s life was more important than theirs.

Farrell said:

“We don’t recognize the police officers killed or injured protecting residents. … Somehow we’ve forgotten the debt we owe these men and women and someone needs to stand up for them.”

Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, suggested other candidates for “civic recognition” including fire Lt. Vincent Perez, firefighter and paramedic Anthony Valerio, and police officer Nick Birco:

“We believe that we as a city should instead be honoring real heroes, the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting our community from harm.”

Farrel’s statement drew a strong response from several of his fellow board members during the meeting. Supervisor Malia Cohen noted that she would be happy to sponsor a memorial for a police officer if the police made a request as the community had done in Nieto’s case, but it was important to honor victims of violence on both sides of the fence.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin noted that he had attended police funerals and responded to the hospital in the past when officers were shot or injured:

¬†“We can honor the men and women of the police department and the dangers that they face and we can honor the men and women of our community who are tragically killed, these are not exclusive things.”

Avalos, who knew Nieto as a young man when he worked at Coleman Advocates for Youth, described Nieto as an “inquisitive and dedicated” young man who was interested in community service and working to become a youth probation officer.

Nieto’s parents, Elvira and Refugio, already make regular trips to the place on Bernal Hill where he was shot, which is marked by a small shrine.

Avalos said:

“That incident and the pain it’s created has had tremendous reverberations. … Because of that pain there’s been a huge need to find some sense of healing at this spot.”