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.