By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Five years ago, Scott McManus, a gang-unit officer, made headlines for his involvement in a highly questionable shooting that capped a long record of excessive-force complaints. Now he’s back in the news again, thanks to a federal civil-rights lawsuit expected to be filed July 29. The lawsuit stems from a Feb. 2, 2008, collision involving McManus and Boaz Quinton Balenti, a 45-year-old driver who cruised through a Buena Park neighborhood where McManus and other officers were conducting a drug-surveillance operation.
Police reports filed by McManus and other officers assert Balenti aroused suspicion because his truck had tinted windows and had rolled through a stop sign. McManus responded by turning on his police lights and positioning his vehicle as a roadblock, and Balenti failed to stop. “Balenti and I made eye contact as I stopped my vehicle,” McManus wrote in his report. “Balenti suddenly accelerated his truck in my direction and violently collided with the front end of my vehicle.”
In his report, McManus claimed he was unable to arrest Balenti because he was in such serious pain from the wreck that he collapsed on the pavement after getting out of his car. “I went to the ground and could not stand up,” he wrote. Two other officers named in the lawsuit are alleged to have beaten Balenti after pulling him from his truck; in their own reports, the two officers stated Balenti resisted arrest and they had no choice but to sweep his feet from the ground and repeatedly “strike” him in the face to force him to comply. (By all accounts, McManus was dazed from the crash and did not strike Balenti.)
Balenti, whom police reports say was slipping in and out of consciousness, was sent to West Anaheim Medical Center with numerous injuries he sustained from the collision: a concussion, a dislocated right shoulder and cervical spine sprain, as well as extensive bruising and nerve damage. Hospital photographs taken that day show him covered in blood, adorned in a neck brace and with heavy bandages on his head. McManus was also treated for his less serious injuries: several bruises, a cut on his leg and scratched knuckles.
After being treated, Balenti went to jail, charged with assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly ramming McManus. Although the Orange County district attorney’s office declined to prosecute Balenti for the car crash, he pleaded guilty to two counts of transporting narcotics in return for a two-year prison sentence. “At the time we filed the case, we believed there was sufficient evidence to file a charge of assault with a deadly weapon,” said DA spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder. “As we did further investigation and obtained further evidence, we didn’t believe we could prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt, and we dismissed the charge.”
Assuming Balenti intentionally rammed McManus, the two other officers named in the lawsuit do not make this assertion in their reports. Instead, they state they observed Balenti “colliding” with McManus, leaving it unclear as to which vehicle rammed the other.
A sworn declaration attached to the lawsuit signed by the one witness to the crash who wasn’t wearing a uniform is more clear on this question. This witness, a Buena Park resident who lived near the scene of the incident, asked to not be identified and would only confirm that he signed the declaration and that everything he stated is exactly what happened.
The witness was retrieving a birthday gift from his car, which was parked on the street, when he heard a loud noise. “I looked up to see an SUV with flashing lights traveling westbound at an extremely high rate of speed, turning sharply to its left, skidding across the westbound lanes and into the eastbound lanes, into head-on traffic,” his declaration states. “The SUV appeared to be out of control. The SUV remained in my field of vision as it crashed head-on into a truck traveling eastbound on Ball Road. The truck seemed to be moving at a low speed just prior to the collision.”
The speeding SUV with the flashing lights was, of course, McManus’, while the slow-moving truck was driven by Balenti. According to the witness, the “SUV hit the truck while still traveling at a high rate of speed. . . . The impact was loud and violent and rocked the neighborhood.” He watched McManus get out of the SUV, drop to the ground and pull out his gun while Balenti remained motionless in his truck. He then saw other officers struggle with Balenti, forcibly remove him from the driver’s seat and knock him to the ground.
Sergeant Rick Martinez, an Anaheim Police Department public-information officer, said his agency couldn’t comment on the incident.
But Balenti’s attorney, Cecelia Moddelmog, suspects a cover-up. “This could be you; it could be me,” says Moddelmog, who’s also Balenti’s sister. “Should you commit a minor traffic violation, be it tinted windows, rolling through a stop sign—who knows, maybe next time it’ll be expired tags, turning right on red, perhaps you might be caught jaywalking—this is what Officer McManus might choose to do to you.”