Federal Jury: Anaheim Cop Used Excessive Force in Deadly Shooting That Sparked Anaheim Riots

UPDATE, NOV. 3, 5:25 P.M: A federal jury awarded $200,000 in damages this afternoon to the family of Manuel Diaz, a 25-year-old unarmed man slain by Anaheim policeman Nick Bennallack in 2012. The decision followed a verdict announced yesterday that found Bennallack used excessive force in the fatal shooting that touched off days of social unrest in the city.

Dale Galipo, lead attorney for the Diaz family, asked jurors to consider $11 million in damages. They ultimately decided with a much lower figure closer to the range suggested by Anaheim’s attorneys. Unlike the first part of the trial that focused on excessive force, jurors were allowed to hear evidence presented about Diaz’s gang affiliation, drug use and previous incarceration when considering the dollar amount.

The paltry damages are in line with pre-trial settlements in other Anaheim police shooting cases. The city settled with the mother of David Raya, an unarmed man shot dead in 2011, for $245,000. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived the wrongful death lawsuit of Caesar Cruz, another unarmed man killed by Anaheim police in 2009, the parties settled out of court for $175,000.

When a civil jury found Anaheim police partially liable for the shooting death of Monique Deckard in 2015, they awarded the family $189,000 in damages.

Only the fatal shooting of Julian Alexander in 2008 topped the million dollar mark in Anaheim with a $1.55 million payout in exchange for dismissing the lawsuit filed.

ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 2, 1:11 P.M.: More than five years after the fatal shooting of Manuel Diaz by Anaheim policeman Nick Bennallack, a federal jury this morning found the officer used excessive force. The slaying sparked immediate protests on July 21, 2012 from angry residents on Anna Drive, where the incident happened. Footage of Diaz, 25, dying while handcuffed on the grass and less-lethal projectiles later being shot by police at residents fueled a fury that exploded in a riot days later in the city’s downtown.

The federal jury reached a much different decision this time around regarding the shooting than the previous one that rejected excessive force claims in 2014. A three-judge panel with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that verdict last year and ordered a new trial finding that the jury heard inflammatory and irrelevant evidence. Federal court Judge James Selna allowed Anaheim’s attorneys to introduce photographs found on Diaz’s cellphone of him brandishing a gun and throwing up East Side Anaheim gang signs.

“We plan to go back to court and fight it all the way,” Genevieve Huizar, Manuel’s mother, told the Weekly at the time. “We have to make a stand for justice because they’re still killing people.” The retrial ended last week, with Anaheim police officers packing the courtroom, when the jury began deliberations on the question of excessive force before returning their verdict today.

“We acknowledge the jury’s decision and thank jurors for their time and consideration,” Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster says in a statement. “This case shows the difficulty and complexity of situations our police face, and we believe they acted reasonably.”

Bennallack approached Diaz five years ago when he saw him leaning into a car in the alleyway that afternoon. A short foot pursuit followed when the officer shot him twice, with the fatal wound striking the back of his head. The Orange County District Attorney’s office cleared Bennallack of any criminal wrongdoing in 2013. Dale Galipo, Huizar’s lead attorney, argued in court that Bennallack overreacted. The officer maintained from the stand that he believed Diaz was armed when the man began turning while approaching a gate at the apartment complex. However, police found no weapon at the scene.

“Any loss of life in Anaheim is tragic, and our hearts go out to the family and all involved,” Lyster adds. “We have not made any determination on future steps as of this moment and await the next phase of the trial.”

When reviving the lawsuit, the appellate court ruled the retrial should be bifurcated with the jury deciding on excessive force claims first before going on to determine damages. Now that a jury found Bennallack liable, court resumes this afternoon to discuss putting a price tag on the loss of life he caused.

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