Appellate Court Overturns Verdict That Cleared Anaheim Cop in 2012 Shooting

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a jury verdict that cleared an Anaheim police officer of any wrongdoing in the 2012 fatal shooting of 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, a shooting that sparked days of protests and unrest.

Diaz was shot in the back of the head and buttocks on the afternoon of July 21, 2012, by officer Nick Bennallack, who was chasing him through an alleyway.

While District Attorney Tony Rackauckas cleared Bennallack of any wrongdoing in the shooting, Diaz’s mother, Genevieve Huizar, filed a civil suit in federal court alleging that Bennallack used excessive force and violated her son’s constitutional rights.

In 2013, the jury in Huizar’s case came to its verdict after just two hours of deliberation at the end of a week long trial. The appellate ruling, filed Wednesday, throws that verdict out and calls for a new trial.

In its decision, the appellate court ruled that the district court failed to separate the liability phase from the compensatory damages phase of the trial.  Because of this, the appellate panel wrote, the jury was improperly influenced by evidence of Diaz’s gang affiliation and drug use, matters that were irrelevant to a decision on whether the police officer who shot Diaz acted recklessly.

Click here to read the full decision by the federal appeals court. 

The shooting of Diaz was the sixth police shooting in Anaheim that year and caused tensions between the police and the city’s largely Latino Anna Drive neighborhood to boil over into protests and ultimately riots outside of City Hall.

The events in Anaheim that summer were a precursor to clashes between police and minority communities in Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore, among other places, in recent years, which have led to a national reckoning regarding how police treat people of color.

Dale Galipo, the lead attorney in the civil lawsuit told The Orange County Register Wednesday that he believed the appellate court’s decision reflected a new national focus on shootings involving police officers.

“I think the public and judges and court of appeals judges are getting tired of people being unarmed and shot,” Galipo, who has been involved in numerous police shooting and wrongful death cases told The Register. “At a minimum they want to make sure that they get a fair trial.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Officer Nick Bennallack.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • Paul Lucas

    This is huge. Th case can be retried or settled out of court. If they choose to retry and win, they can push for criminal charges. This cop has shot 4 people in a matter of two years. Like a serial killer.

    • Judy Allen

      Is it necessary to shoot an unarmed suspect running away…. and what happened to a shot two or in the leg? If I can shoot someone in the head, can I not shoot him/her below the waist?

      • LFOldTimer

        Maybe he was aiming for the foot or the leg. If he was aiming for the head the man might still be alive today.

  • LFOldTimer

    Looks like Ms. Huizar gets a do-over. Based upon the information in the article I can’t comprehend how even a police officer could shoot an unarmed man in the back of the head as he’s running away and skate. Granted, I wasn’t at the shooting, in the courtroom or on the jury. All I know is what I read in the papers. But I think most of us would agree it’s one strange story. There must be more to it.

    If push comes to shove and the jury sides with Ms. Huizar on the replay I guess Anaheim PD could just play the ‘needs more training’ card like Hutchens played over at OCSD. That card seems to fly with the politicians and the media. I haven’t seen much pushback.

    I only wish those same rules applied to the rest of us. If I ever get pulled over for a traffic violation I’m going to pull out my DMV manual and tell the officer that I promise to retrain myself as soon as I get home if he just gives me a warning. I wonder if it would fly? What do you think?

    • David Zenger

      Oh, silly man. Diaz was reaching for his “waistband” dontchaknow, and Officer Bellanack feared for his safety. Apparently that happens a lot to Officer Bellanack.

      • LFOldTimer

        Well, a lawyer convinced a group of jurors that the shooting was justified. I’ll repeat: I can’t comprehend how it’s justified for anyone to shoot an unarmed man in the back of the head as he’s running away. It defies logic. Like I said, I didn’t see much pushback from the media or the pols, did you? They saved Karma from execution. But a bullet to the back of the brain gets ignored.
        But then a jury found the cops who pummeled Kelly Thomas to death not guilty of homicide too. And that one was caught on audio and video. And the jurors never explained their logic to the public following their controversial verdict. Hmmm.
        Well, they tell us it’s the best justice system in the world. Just look at the objective analysis that exonerated Hillary from criminal activity.
        I have no answers. Just questions.

        • Philmore

          You may (or not) find interest in the YouTube segment by Best Justice, “Kingdom of Crime with a Veneer of Justice” a dissection of the legal case “presented” against the Wall Street Banks (for deeds resulting in the 2007 crash), to me a precursor template for the Hillary “decision”. The lead prosecutor enumerated a litany of Banks’ legal transgressions, then at the last minute invoked the standard of “intent” NOT PRESENT IN ANY OF THE LAW EXCEPT THE VERSION HE CREATED FOR HIMSELF AT THE MOMENT, to decide prosecution was not warranted. The gentleman had come from a law firm whose major (sole?) client was Goldman-Sachs, and “coincidentally” resigned and returned there when a PBS Frontline segment detailing the events of his conduct hit the airwaves. FWIW-

          • LFOldTimer

            Oh yes. I know all about the “Too Big To Jail” crowd on Wall Street. Old news.
            At your leisure I invite you to type “Wall Street banks/drug cartel narco dollars” into your favorite search engine. Several well-known US banks (and several foreign banks chartered to do business in the US) were found criminally liable in separate cases in civil courts of laundering illicit proceeds for Mexican and SA drug cartels. Many,many billions of dollars involved. Naturally the fines were a pittance of the profits accumulated through the laundering activities. The bottom line is that no bank officials were arrested or prosecuted, let alone convicted of laundering crimes. Apparently the money laundered itself absent the consent of the bank officials.

            My advice is to never attempt that trick at home. The Feds will take everything you own and the burden of proof would be on you to show that you obtained the assets with clean funds. And that might be a difficult to do as you’re locked up and staring at a minimum mandatory of 10 years at Club Fed.

            It’s the new “Just Us” system that appears so prevalent throughout the elite ranks of America.

            Hillary likes it.

    • Paul Lucas

      I wish they would just stop training these guys to shoot first ask questions later.

      • LFOldTimer

        Well, Sandra Hutchens would simply tell you that they only ‘need more training’. If all else fails play the ‘need more training’ card. The pols and the media will buy it first time every time.

        Theo Lacy is full of people who just ‘need more training’. The difference is that their training happens behind bars.

        • David Zenger

          “Theo Lacy is full of people who just ‘need more training'”.

          Pure gold.