DA Finds Anaheim Officer Exempt From Murder That Led To Mass Protests

By @katierucke |
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    (MintPress) – After two fatal officer-involved shootings in July 2012, protests erupted in Anaheim, Calif., for about nine days, as residents and activists publicly displayed their disapproval for police actions.

    As Mint Press previously reported, protesters vocalized their discontent with the Anaheim police in a largely peaceful manner — dressing in white and silently carrying signs that read “We are Anaheim,” and “Peace begins with us.” Others took the movement in a different direction and used more monkeywrench-esque tactics, like taking over a parking lot where they drew outlines of bodies with chalk and wrote messages condemning the police.

    Protests intensified when police responded with harsh actions, such as firing bean-bag rounds and pepper spray into crowds filled with women and children. A police dog also got loose during one protest and bit a few demonstrators.

    The protests began when 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, who police say was a known gang member, was shot and killed on July 21. After the shooting was reported, Police Chief John Welter told the media that officers approached three men who were acting suspiciously in an alleyway when they ran away. One of the officers chased Diaz to the front of an apartment complex where the shooting occurred.

    The Orange County District Attorney announced an investigation into the case after the incident, and last week announced that the Anaheim police officer was justified in shooting and killing Diaz, because the officer had three bits of knowledge suggesting Diaz likely had a weapon:

    • Diaz had a prior felony conviction for possessing a gun for the “benefit of the gang”
    • A cell phone found nearby included photos of Diaz posing with a gun days before he was killed.
    • And a raid weeks later on gang members believed to be associated with Diaz led to the discovery of 40 guns.

    The announcement means that Officer Nicholas Bennallack is now exempt from being charged in Diaz’s death because, according to the Orange County District Attorney, they would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer did not act in self-defense or the defense of others when he shot Diaz.

    “The police always turn it around to their favor,” Diaz’s mother, Genevieve Huizar, said of the findings. “Manuel’s the one that’s dead, not Bennallack.” She has filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against Bennallack and the city of Anaheim.

    DA’s findings

    According to a 20-page letter released by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas last week, Officers Bennallack and Brett Heitmann were patrolling near the 700 block of North Anna Drive when they spotted several people hanging around a car in an alley.

    “Believing that criminal activity might be taking place,” the officers stopped their squad car and approached the group, Rackauckas said.

    Diaz was reportedly standing outside of the car, leaning into the front passenger window. When the officers approached, he ran, and reportedly kept running after officers say they ordered him to stop.

    Law enforcement maintains that Diaz was a documented gang member from Santa Ana, Calif., which is an allegation his family has continued to deny.

    Investigators said that while running from police, Diaz’s elbows appeared to be angled at his sides as if he were holding something in front of him. In response, an attorney for Diaz’s family said it’s likely Diaz was trying to hold up his baggy pants as he ran.

    Bennallack testified that Diaz stopped running and turned toward the officers while simultaneously raising his hands. The officer said he saw an object in Diaz’s hands and fired two shots, which according to an autopsy, struck Diaz in the head and the buttocks.

    What the object Diaz had in his hands was not released, but the Defense Attorney’s letter said that even though it wasn’t a handgun, there must be an “allowance for the ‘split-second judgments in tense circumstances’ required of Officer Bennallack.”

    According to NBC News, the District Attorney’s findings includes statements from officers, three witnesses, a rundown of the evidence, details from the autopsy, a summary of YouTube video taken after the shooting, details on Diaz’s criminal history, Bennallack’s job history and legal analysis of the shooting.


    Protests continue

    Though established news organizations, like CNN and MSNBC, have not continued coverage of protests in the Los Angeles area since the July protests dwindled, many California residents have continued to rally against the police, citing corruption and brutality as their main reasons.

    In a YouTube video recently posted by the group, Streetgangs.com, which was created to share information regarding gangs, there is a montage of community members speaking out against corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department and against Mexican racism.

    One unidentified protester begins her speech to the crowd by talking about all of the groups that she says are beaten every day by police officers, including the disabled, lesbians, Latinos and immigrants. “We can’t be friends with [the police],” she says. “You think negotiating with them is going to do something positive? … Absolutely not! They are the enemies of us.”

    She continued by saying “it’s inherent in their job to be supportive of the rich and the wealthy  because they work for the state! Who is the state? Corporations, the wealthiest people, the bourgeoisie … Who are the people that are our allies? The same people that get beat down and oppressed by the cops.”

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