A mother plans to appeal the federal jury verdict that an Anaheim police officer did not use excessive force when he shot and killed her unarmed 25-year-old son in a 2012 shooting that sparked days of protests.
A jury rejected the claims of Manuel Diaz’s family, who believe Officer Nicholas Bennallack acted without justification when he shot Diaz in the head and buttocks during a foot chase on July 21. The verdict was handed down Thursday.
"When Bennallack rounded that corner and opened fire on my son, that was a murder execution," Diaz's mother Genevieve Huizar said.
Huizar shaved her head just a few blocks away from where the ruling came down as a show of solidarity for her son. Huizar was frustrated with verdict and said there should have been evidence submitted about Bennallack’s involvement in another shooting.
“Yes, it was a gang area. Yes, it might have been a high crime area,” Huizar said. “But that still did not justify him to open fire. He did not see a weapon.”
Diaz’s family was asking for $3 to $5 million in damages for his death.
"The city’s defense was that Officer Bennallack did believe he was about to fired upon, had both a reasonable and strong belief that he was gonna be shot at," Anaheim City Attorney Michael Houston said.
The City of Anaheim said they were committed to keeping the community safe in a statement following the verdict.
“There are no victors in this case,” the statement said. “Regardless of circumstances, someone lost his life and a mother lost her son.”
The jury’s decision comes about a year after a report filed by the Orange County District Attorney turned up similar findings. The 20-page letter said Bennallack’s actions were justified because Diaz had gang ties and a felony conviction for possessing a gun. The findings exempted Bennallack from being charged in Diaz’s death.
Officers Bennallack and Brett Heitmann were patrolling an area known for gang activity on July 21 when they spotted a group of people near a car in an alley in the 700 block of North Anna Drive. As the officers approached the group, Diaz ran from the officers.
When Diaz finally stopped, he began to turn toward the officers and simultaneously, he raised his hands, according to the report.
Bennallack said he noticed something in Diaz’s hands when he fired two bullets.
Diaz’s death and the fatal shooting of another man by Anaheim police set off a wave of unrest in the city, where residents accused the police department of racial profiling and abusive tactics.
"We’ve been protesting, we go to city council, we make it known that enough is enough," Huizar said.
A memorial in Diaz's honor is still in place on Anna Drive almost two years after the fatal shooting.