- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - A federal court jury on Thursday rejected claims that police used excessive force in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, the first of two killings by Anaheim police that led to violent demonstrations in the city that’s home to Disneyland.

The jury in suburban Los Angeles found that the force used against 25-year-old suspected gang member Manuel Diaz was not excessive or unreasonable. The lawsuit against the city of Anaheim and Officer Nicholas Bennallack had sought damages of $3 million to $5 million, said Humberto Guizar, an attorney for Diaz’s mother.

Guizar said some jurors who spoke to him said they reached their decision because there was gang activity in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.

“It’s a Latino low-income community. That’s all it is,” he said. “There’s some gang members that live there, but I think they hyped it up.”

Diaz’s mother, Genevieve Huizar, said she plans to appeal. “We’re disappointed, but we’re not broken,” she said.

Outside the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, several protesters held signs denouncing police as killers.

City Attorney Michael Houston said the city has worked hard to heal from the upheaval that ensued after the shootings. Anaheim has created a public safety review board, and police officers meet regularly with residents to hear their concerns, he said.

“There’s really no winner here, and the jury had a very tough job to do,” Houston said of the verdict.

Diaz’s shooting by Bennallack on July 21, 2012, and the next day’s killing of another man by a different Anaheim police officer sparked a series of demonstrations, some of which turned violent.

Bennallack shot Diaz, who was unarmed, outside an apartment complex. Officers said Diaz, who had a criminal record, failed to heed orders and threw something as he fled police.

The following night, police fatally shot Joel Acevedo, a suspected gang member they say fired at officers after a pursuit.

The deaths sparked four days of violent protests resulting in about 20 smashed shop windows and dozens of arrests.

The district attorney last year cleared Bennallack in the shooting, but Diaz’s family sued the city and Bennallack.

Police have said Diaz was a gang member from Santa Ana.

Dale Galipo, another attorney for Huizar, acknowledged that Diaz had belonged to a gang and taken drugs before the run-in with police but said the officer who shot him would not have known that at the time.

“We believe it was all that negative evidence” that influenced the jury, he said.


Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report.

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