Bernal Heights, where Mr. Neito was killed, is a complex neighborhood in San Francisco.
Complex and edgy.
Bernal is becoming expensive as new arrivals purchase property, many favoring a quaint and prettified aesthetic. They live alongside older residents fortunate to have bought in decades earlier when prices were comparatively cheap. In the 1970s and 1980s many progressive communal households set up
in Bernal, and some of these still exist. The older residents and communes latter prefer stained glass,natural wood, let the paint on their houses become mellow in the sun. Small children are minutely supervised while untamed vines and flowers climb the fences.
Bernal Heights has an idyllic feel, sitting in the sun, aloft in the clouds.
But at ground level, Bernal is near a multitude of freeways. On one side, it abuts some tense housing projects, on another side slopes down to the county hospital and trauma center sit. The Mission Distric, formerly mostly
immigrant and a haven for artists is now tense due to evictions as cash loaded
workers from tech companies move in.
To add to the complexity, Bernal is a short bus ride away from Bay View Hunter's Point, where many struggle with violence and poverty, and demand
With all this, Bernal has been cheerful, neighborly, which adds to its appeal. But residents will be quick to worry if anyone seems to be carrying a weapon.
(Names converted to initials for privacy, except for the police chief, the journalist and for the deceased - Corboy)
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Alejandro Nieto sought refuge on Bernal Hill. When he had a lot on his mind, friends said, he would trek up the steep slope to sit and think, looking over the city he loved.
That's where the 28-year-old student at City College of San Francisco went Friday evening before his shift as a nightclub security guard. That's where police officers found him as they investigated reports of a man with a gun at Bernal Heights Park, acting erratically and threatening passersby.
And that is where he died, after police said he appeared to reach for a weapon - friends and witnesses suggested it was a Taser stun gun - and forced officers to open fire.
Three days after the shooting, Nieto's friends, many of whom called him "Alex," were bewildered Monday, unable to process such a violent death for a man who they say advocated for peace. They held a vigil for him Monday evening at the park.
"We are all shocked in the community," said his friend (B B S) "Everyone knew Alejandro. He was such a beautiful, peaceful, loving man."
Friends said the man they knew was a Buddhist who preached compassion - and who carried a stun gun for his job. But some also said Nieto had been out of sorts lately. And one former friend recently filed for a restraining order against him, saying that Nieto attacked him with a Taser.
Police officials said officers encountered Nieto on a pedestrian path on the north slope about 7:10 p.m. Friday. Nieto appeared to draw a weapon, and at least two officers fired at him, police Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka said Friday.
A weapon was discovered close to his body, Tomioka said, but she did not identify the weapon. On Monday, police remained tight-lipped on the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
One resident, (IMG), said his wife was warned of a man wearing a holstered gun as she ran up the hill just before the shooting.
"She looked again and he was air boxing," McG said. "She ran down the hill away from him and warned everyone walking up."
Another witness, who declined to give his name, said he was walking his dog just after 7 p.m. when the dog came upon a man eating chips. The dog got excited, scaring the man, who jumped on a bench and started acting erratically.
According to the witness, the man pulled out a pistol-type stun gun and pointed it at the dog, leading the witness to call the dog back and yell at the man.
The man then started "flexing," yelling profanities and threatening him, the witness said. The witness said he left the area, went home and called police.
According to San Francisco court records, Nieto's former friend AV described a March 5 incident in which Nieto had used a stun gun.
In a March 14 request for a restraining order, V said Nieto shocked him four times in the back in front of his wife and 3-year-old son. V said he had been picking up his son when Nieto appeared and forced himself into his wife's car.
V said Nieto had screamed profanities. He and his wife got away, but two days later he saw what he believed to be Nieto's car following him.
Possessing stun guns is legal in California for everyone except convicted felons, drug addicts and people who have misused the devices in the past.
V's experience with Nieto stands in contrast to the man some of his friends remember. Nieto appeared depressed and hadn't been acting like himself lately, they said, but was still the caring and civic-minded man he always was.
Nieto was a few credits away from earning an associate's degree in criminal justice from City College, Bac Sierra said. He planned to become a youth counselor, working with troubled children who needed guidance.
He volunteered at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and with Homey, a nonprofit youth empowerment group in the Mission District, and had just finished a stint at a youth guidance center working with youth in juvenile detention.
JB 53, met Nieto through his volunteer work teaching Buddhism classes in 2008 and worked with him and the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International on setting up the Victory Over Violence exhibit in the Bayview neighborhood.
"He was an encouragement and inspiration to me," B said. "I just never in my wildest imagination connected the story on Friday with Alex."
S said he didn't believe Nieto was going through anything that would make him act erratically. But even if he was, "the officers should have had more compassion, more training on how to approach someone," he said.
"I don't know exactly what his state of mind could have been," he said, "but I always knew him as someone who would chant, someone who would go up there and look at the view and reflect.
Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/03/2014 11:31PM by corboy.