Worried the City of Anaheim and local prosecutors are acting in collusion to protect a cop who fatally shot an unarmed Latino man in the back of head in July, lawyers for the estate of Manuel Diaz are hoping a federal judge on Monday will order the government to stop delaying document discovery in a $50 million civil rights lawsuit.
"Defendants have had almost five months already to shore up their defenses, while decedent's estate, decedent's mother and family and the public and the community sit by waiting and waiting to discover what really happened," wrote Bryan Cabrera, an attorney with Douglas, Lopez & Rumm, which is representing the estate. "There is no need to wait any longer and there is a compelling interest to allow discovery."
Lawyers for the city, however, argue that release of information to the plaintiffs will "jeopardize the legitimacy" of whatever conclusions the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) ultimately makes about the righteousness of the killing as well as abuse the constitutional rights of Nick Bennallack, the cop who fired the fatal shot.
"Allowing discovery in the civil litigation to proceed concurrent with a criminal investigation imposes substantial prejudice on the defendants and creates a situation where civil discovery will interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation," wrote Steven J. Rothans and Jill Williams, attorneys for the city.
Rothans and Williams want U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna to shield them from discovery until the OCDA, which probes officer involved shootings, officially closes its investigation and announces its findings.
The plaintiff lawyers say such a decision would hinder justice.
"Why should decedent's estate and the public sit back and wait any longer for find out what really happened?" wrote Cabrera. "The DA and the police are from the same camp, and every day that goes by is more time for the investigators to 'circle the wagons' and protect their own. This is not justice."
The police killing of Diaz and then additional killings sparked massive protests in Anaheim that garnered international media attention. Some citizens believe local cops are racists prone to shoot Latinos first and ask questions later. Police insist they only fire their weapons when they feel their lives are in jeopardy, even when their victim is unarmed and fleeing.
Cabrera also claims that police have "instilled fear" in witnesses to the Diaz killing and that tensions remain high in the city.
"As long as the facts are hidden, the likelihood for additional violence is heightened because members of the community are more afraid of the police than the gangs," Cabrera wrote in his brief.
City lawyers say a delay of four months is reasonable and hope that's the ruling Selna makes inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana on Jan. 7.