Supreme Court gives Manuel Diaz a victory over Anaheim’s Moses Johnson & Nick Bennalack.




Officer Nick “Backshot” Bennallack, Manuel Angel Diaz, Anaheim city attorney Moses Johnson.

As loyal readers of this blog or the OC Weekly know, unarmed Manuel Diaz was shot fatally twice, in the butt and back of the head, while fleeing from his shooter, Anaheim Police Officer Nick Bennallack, on Anna Drive in July 2012.  And this police killing, along with the killing the next day of Joel Acevedo as well as several other questionable police killings that year, led to a long hot 2012 summer of riots, protests, and eventually some micro-reforms.

Next step in Manuel’s mother Genevieve Huizar‘s tireless quest for justice was to wait for OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas‘ report – always a useless hope.  As in EVERY case (except Kelly Thomas) the DA found the police shooting justified, even though Manuel was unarmed, fleeing, and not even accused of anything illegal that day.  But Rackauckas went to extra lengths in the 2013 Diaz report, devoting the bulk of 19 pages to accusations, innuendos, and past run-ins with the law that Manuel had had, even though Bennallack was unaware of any of those things when shooting him in the back.

So, the following year – 2014 – Genevieve took her son’s case to a federal jury in Santa Ana.   Lawyers for Anaheim once again dragged Manuel through the mud, repeating and repeating things from his past that Bennallack coudn’t have and didn’t know, and were completely irrelevant to July 21, 2012.  I’ve seen Anaheim attorney Moses Johnson do this sort of thing to Joel Acevedo, Joel’s mother Donna (during depositions), Monique Deckard … it seems to be a large part of his skill set.  He even attempted to demonstrate to the jury that Genevieve was a bad mother who didn’t love her son (and hence presumably he needed to be shot down.)

Meanwhile lawyers for Genevieve were forbidden from telling the jury a lot of interesting information about the shooting officer Bennallack.  For example, it might have been good for the jury to know that this cop had shot and killed another innocent young man, Bernie Villegas, a mere six months before killing Manuel.  (Bernie had been sitting in the parking lot of his apartment complex, shooting a BB gun at bottles with a friend.)  The jury also may have liked to know that Officer Bennallack (right) proudly goes by the nickname Nick “Buckshot” Bennallack (which some of us have changed to “Backshot” since he shot both Bernie and Manuel in the back.)  In any case, the jury predictably, in the jury foreman’s reported words, opted to “trust a white police officer over a gangbanger.”

Vowing to redress this injustice in appeals court, Genevieve finally found success last year in front of the magnificent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who ruled that case should be retried again, WITHOUT all the irrelevant negative information about Manuel.  THIS time it was Anaheim’s turn to appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court, to try to keep Manuel’s mother from receiving any justice.

Well, the good news THIS week is that the Supremes, having read the 9th Circuit’s published decision and found it fair and sound, sent Moses Johnson back to the woodshed – Manuel’s mother DOES get another civil rights trial, whch will take place this October. What does Genevieve want?  She was clear and unhesitant at Tuesday’s press conference in front of Anaheim City Hall – she wants Nick “Backshot” Bennallack off the force and behind bars, “like any other murderer.”  Because, you know, what better way to make sure this stops happening with such regularity?

This is an important decision that should resonate throughout the nation – no longer can the defenders of rogue policemen manipulate juries and judges with pointless dirty details from a victim’s past, while hiding the cop’s misdeeds behind a blue veil of secrecy – an asymmetry that had long been a mainstay of our system of injustice.  And let’s give a big backhanded slap to the power structure of Anaheim – whose ruthlessness and greed have now accidentally led to three great legal outcomes I can think of – the demise of California’s Enterprise Zones precipitated by the greed and cheating of Disney and the Honda Center; civil (asset) forfeiture severely curtailed partly due to Anaheim’s piggish attempts to swindle Tony Jalali of his $1.5 million office building;  and now this. 

Congratulations and good luck to Genevieve Huizar and her legal team – except in the video below her lawyer Humberto Guizar is wrong when he tells a reporter that the chant “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” originated with Black Lives Matter.  Uh, no, Humberto.  People’ve been saying “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE” as long as I can remember!

(Also see my piece from last week, “Victim Shaming from Calvary to United to Anna Drive.“)


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.