Jury Awards $200,000 to Family of Anaheim Man Killed in 2012 Police Shooting

A federal jury Friday awarded $200,000 in damages to the family of Manuel Angel Diaz, a 25-year-old Anaheim man who was shot and killed in 2012 while running away from two Anaheim police officers.

The jury ruled on Thursday that Anaheim police officer Nick Bennallack used excessive force when he fatally shot Diaz in the head and buttocks.

The jury awarded $50,000 for Diaz’s loss of life and $150,000 to Diaz’s family.

Earlier in the day Friday, an attorney for the family, Dale Galipo, recommended an $11 million judgment for the family, while attorney Steven Rothans, representing the city, recommended $150,000 to $200,000.

Galipo said Friday that he was disappointed in the jury’s award.

“It’s too low, but I think when the jury heard that he was in a gang and on drugs and had various periods of incarceration, I think that greatly affected the decision,” Galipo said.

He said the family will petition for the city to pay the cost of their attorney’s fees for the past five years – this is the case’s second jury trial since the lawsuit was filed in 2012 – which Galipo estimated at nearly $2 million.

Diaz’s death in 2012, and the shooting of another young Latino man, Joel Acevedo, the next day touched off days of protests in front of city hall. 

“Anaheim has come a long way since 2012, and for the family and all involved, we are happy to see this phase come to a close,” Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said Friday after the verdict. “We offer best wishes to all as we move forward.”

Diaz was killed July 21, 2012 in a brief foot chase that began after Bennallack and another police officer saw Diaz leaning into a car in an alley and believed he was involved in a drug deal.

According to the Orange County Register, Bennallack testified during the trial that Diaz ignored commands to stop and reached toward his waistband with both arms, glancing back at the officer. Bennallack said Diaz appeared to be pulling something from his waistband when the he opened fire.

Bennallack also testified that he saw Diaz throw what he believed was a firearm, although no weapon ever was found, according to the Register. 

Galipo told jurors Friday that Diaz’s decision to run from police was likely because of the methamphetamine in his system, and that drugs were the reason he spent four years in jail from age 17 to 25, according to the Register.

Galipo said despite his problems, Diaz was close to his mother, Genevieve Huizar.

But Rothans, the attorney for the city, argued that Huizar lost her son “years before” to drugs and gangs, according to the Register.

Huizar lost her first trial against the city in 2014, but the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned the verdict, ruling that Diaz's gang affiliation was wrongly included in evidence.

Acevedo’s mother, Donna Acevedo-Nelson, also filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 2014, although that case was later dismissed.

The Orange County District Attorney found the fatal shootings of both Diaz and Acevedo to be legally justified and cleared Bennallack and Kelly Phillips, the officer who killed Acevedo, of criminal wrongdoing

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