Anonymity: SFPD acted against public interest and the interest of justice for more than nine months
For more than nine months, SFPD acted against public interest and against the interest of justice by hiding the names of the police officers involved in Alex Nieto’s killing. Supporters of Justice4AlexNieto have been saying this from the beginning. Guess what? The justice system and legal scholars agreed with us. Community knows best…!
Release of officers’ names: The breakthrough in SFPD’s cover-up campaign also shapes a judicial precedent
Monday marked the deadline set by a federal judge in the Nieto Family’s civil rights case against the City & County of San Francisco (the “Federal Civil Case”) to end the confidentiality under which SFPD, and subsequently the City Attorney, held those names for more than nine months.
According to Chief Greg Suhr himself, SFPD policy in an officer-involved shooting is to reveal the names of the officers immediately. (Source: Interview on 1010AM Hecho en California.) This policy of transparency was already backed by a CA Supreme Court resolution from March 2014 (the “Long Beach Case”) which ruled that the names of officers are not confidential, unless exceptional circumstances require otherwise. (Please read the article below on the Long Beach Case.)
After Alex Nieto was killed, SFPD claimed that a “credible threat” to officers’ safety impeded them from revealing the names of the officers involved in his shooting. On November 12th, 2014, the nature of that “credible threat” was made public by Chief Greg Suhr. Chief Suhr’s explained in an interview on 1010am Hecho en California that the threat was made:
(1) shortly after Alex was killed
(2) on social media (rumor says, on Facebook, but police now say a phone call was also made)
(3) by someone living outside the country (rumor says, in Mexico), and
(4) by someone known to SFPD (implying they were keeping tabs on him.)
This alleged “credible threat” and the Long Beach Case were put to the test during the discovery phase of the Federal Civil Case. Presiding Magistrate Judge Cousins did not find the alleged threat sufficiently credible to continue hiding the names from public knowledge. Among other things, Magistrate Cousins considered plaintiff’s argument that keeping the names confidential not only went against public interest, but also against the interest of justice, given that confidentiality would place the Nieto Family’s attorney (Adante Pointer) in an impossible situation to carry out an independent investigation without revealing the names or restricting him to information exclusively obtained from SFPD or the City Attorney. The result would have been a lopsided case in which the City Attorney became ‘master of the case’ to the detriment of justice.
Ultimately, Magistrate Cousins saw no end in sight for such a vague threat affecting the judicial process:
Cousins said that without a more straightforward timeline for the threats to be resolved, the anonymity could continue indefinitely, making it prudent to set a date for the protective order to expire since it limits the plaintiff’s ability to investigate the case. (Source: Mission Local on 12/22/2014 discovery hearing)
The Alex Nieto Case: Legal history in the making! Legal scholars are paying attention.
A Credible Threat
The Supreme Court ruled that “generally, the public has a right to know the identity of an officer involved in an on-duty shooting.” But, the ruling says, “We do not hold that the names of officers involved in shootings have to be disclosed in every case, regardless of the circumstances.”
The circumstances involve what the Supreme Court majority calls “particularized,” or specific, evidence that “it is essential to protect an officer’s anonymity for safety reasons or for reasons peculiar to the officer’s duties.”
UC Hastings law Professor David Levine said there have been very few, if any, cases that have tested the disclosure requirements laid out in the Long Beach decision.
He said the Nieto case is “one of the first cases, if not the first case, to test the ruling in the Long Beach case, especially in the context that we’ve seen this heightened sensitivity in these police shooting cases.”
“How are you going to say these are credible threats when this person isn’t even in the damn country?” Pointer said. “If that’s the precedent, any whacko could make a threat, and the police could say this guy made a threat two years ago, and we don’t have to release the information.”
Levine said in light of the Long Beach ruling, it’d be difficult to reach another conclusion.
“The case comes down so strongly in favor of disclosure, I can see why the magistrate would reach that conclusion,” he said. “Unless you thought that it was both credible and imminent, meaning in a pretty short time frame, the values of disclosure that the Long Beach case expresses are going to outweigh the vagueness of a less credible threat. But if you’re wrong, and then the name is released, and within a relatively short period of time, we find ourselves with another officer murdered, that’s a really tough decision for a judge.”
Who are these officers? You can help us know more.
To learn more about the officers involved in the shooting of Alex Nieto, please check our new post dedicated to revealing their background. This page will be continuously updated as we learn more also.
Community members often provide the most valuable information about officers’ behavior in their communities. Should you have any information regarding the behavior of these officers in community, on or off duty, please contact:
Law Offices of John Burris