At least one Anaheim policeman panicked over the Manuel Diaz civil trial in October before it ended with a federal jury finding officer Nick Bennallack liable for excessive force when he gunned the unarmed Latino down in 2012. Three years ago, a verdict in the case rejected such claims filed on behalf of Genevieve Huizar, Diaz’s mother, in the shooting that sparked summer riots in the city. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the verdict in 2016, ordered a new trial, and set precedent by disallowing inflammatory evidence from being introduced during its liability phase.
But that’s not what worried officer Eric Anderson most, a close friend of Bennallack.
“Today at the trial, a bunch of gangsters showed up to show support for Manuel Diaz,” Anderson wrote in an Oct. 24 email obtained by the Weekly. He claimed Diaz’s family and friends took up half of the courtroom with Bennallack backed only by his attorneys and father. “Putting myself in the thoughts of the Jury, I could only imagine the questions and concerns they may have when nobody from Nick’s own agency is there for support; when gangsters are.”
Anderson sounded a call for fellow officers to pack the courtroom the following day when testimony began. “For those of you who have been involved in the process of an [officer-involved shooting], you all know how stressful things can be,” he wrote. “Now add everything Nick has already been through with this case and being portrayed as a killer by Manuel’s family and the media.” Death certificates in police shootings don’t read “homicide” for nothing, ya know? Murder, a legal term, is another matter.
Even though Anderson tried rallying the force, his message stumbled along the way. The email claimed that most officers hadn’t known about jury selection in the trial that day, making the big no show something out of their control. His cop call came the day after former police chief Raul Quezada, who appeared in court backed by officers during the first Diaz trial, announced his retirement following a vote of no confidence. Apparently, the department remained divisive after Quezada’s departure with Anderson having to send an email the following day profusely apologizing for his earlier comments.
“Our department is at a very critical point right now and I don’t want to undermine and/or provide any misinformation about any one person or spread rumors,” Anderson wrote on Oct. 25. “I must clarify that I have been informed representatives from the Robbery Detail, Command Staff and SWAT Commanders were present and were there to support Nick. My apologies on that behalf and for those of you that this personally relates to, my deepest and most sincere apologies for any misleading information as that was far from my intention.”
Watch Commander Lt. Allan Roman responded to Sgt. James Cossin, who forwarded the email. “Yep, plus we will have more people this week there,” Roman wrote.
Anaheim PD delivered on the promise to up the ante. After the trial concluded, Huizar spoke at the following Anaheim city council meeting in November. “To see 40, I counted them, officers on the defense side on taxpayer’s money…what kind of thing is that?” she asked. “It’s intimidation.” The Weekly asked the department for the peak number of uniformed cops that turned out for the trial, but a department spokesman informs there’s no record of who was there and when for a headcount.
“They were there to intimidate the jury and to make me uncomfortable,” Huizar tells the Weekly. “I walked right through the middle of them in the halls on several occasions.”
Even after officers packed the courtroom, the jury returned its rarity of a verdict in an OC police shooting case. They awarded $200,000 in damages the following day.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!