For the fourth time in eight years, Orange County prosecutors have cleared an Anaheim police officer of criminal wrongdoing in a deadly shooting of a suspect on duty, authorities said Tuesday.
Officer Nick Bennallack, who was cleared of three other on-duty deadly shootings of suspects since 2012, fatally shot 30-year-old Daniel Ramirez III on April 4, 2019.
In a letter dated Aug. 13 that was released publicly Tuesday, prosecutors informed Anaheim Police Department Chief Jorge Cisneros that Bennallack was cleared of any criminal culpability in Ramirez's death.
Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bugman noted in the letter that not only was there "insufficient evidence" to show Bennallack was criminally culpable, there "is substantial evidence that Officer Bennallack's actions were reasonable, necessary, and justified under the circumstances..."
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A federal court jury in November 2017 awarded $200,000 to the family of 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz, who was fatally shot by Bennallack on July 21, 2012. The jury had earlier found Bennnallack used excessive force.
A prior trial found Bennallack did not use excessive force but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal overturned it because jurors heard about Diaz's gang history. In the second trial the gang background was not presented to jurors until the damages phase.
A day after Diaz's shooting, another Anaheim police officer fatally shot 21-year-old Joel Acevedo at the end of a stolen car pursuit, touching of several days of demonstrations alleging excessive force by police. Some of those protests turned violent.
In June 2015, Orange County prosecutors concluded Bennallack, as well as five other fellow officers, were justified when they fatally shot 43-year-old Steen Thomas Parker on Sept. 19, 2014.
In that incident, Parker was fatally shot after refusing repeated orders to surrender and when he fended off non-lethal weapons, prosecutors said. Parker opened fire on the officers when he was struck by a bean bag, prosecutors said.
In December 2012, Bennallack was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the Jan. 7, 2012, shooting of 36-year-old Bernie Villegas.
In the Ramirez shooting, the conflict was touched off when Irvine police were in Anaheim to serve a search warrant at 547 N. Harcourt St. for grand theft from a vehicle in March 2019, Bugman wrote.
Video surveillance tipped off people in a garage at that location the police were on their way, so Ramirez and another man scrambled up into an attic to hide, Bugman said.
The other suspect ultimately surrendered without injury, Bugman said.
The garage, which was converted into an apartment, was dark and cluttered, Bugman said. Police later found a loaded rifle and ammunition in the garage, Bugman said.
SWAT officers used pepper balls to flush out the first suspect.
Ramirez, however, was more stubborn and threatened to "shoot" if police did not leave, Bugman said.
Ramirez eventually did come down after police said they would let him smoke a cigarette before going to jail, but he would not lie down on his stomach on the floor as police ordered, Bugman wrote.
Instead, Ramirez turned and ran toward the back of the garage, prompting one officer to shoot the suspect with a sponge projectile that struck him in the right lower back, eliciting a scream from Ramirez, Bugman wrote.
Ramirez then appeared to reach for his waist, so the officer shot at Ramirez again with a non-lethal round, Bugman said.
"Officer Bennallack, who also saw Ramirez reach for his waist and observed a bulge in Ramirez's waistband area above his buttocks, believed Ramirez was concealing a gun," Bugman wrote.
"Officer Bennallack yelled, 'He's got a gun,' and then fired five rounds from his rifle, striking Ramirez."
Ramirez was pronounced dead at the scene, Bugman said.
"Although no weapon was found on Ramirez, a subsequent search revealed two additional loaded firearms in the garage," Bugman said.
A revolver that was found was "taped and facing outward in a position where it could quickly be recovered and immediately used," Bugman said.
An autopsy showed Ramirez had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system.