“Excessive Force” – Fire Officer Nick Bennallack!




Manuel, with a poem he wrote a couple of months before Bennallack killed him.

First let’s note the historic nature of Thursday’s jury verdict against Anaheim police officer Nick Bennallack for the 2012 fatal shooting of 25-year old, fleeing, unarmed Manuel Diaz.  An ORANGE COUNTY grand jury actually found a policeman guilty of “excessive force” – they couldn’t even get that with the murderers of Kelly Thomas, despite the grisly video and all.  This has got to be a sign of a change in the public consciousness – maybe the cops are NOT always right!?  Even in Orange County.  Also it shows how polluted the first, 2014, trial on this case was, with irrelevant and exaggerated derogatory information about Manuel, and how right the Ninth Circuit was to order a new trial, and how lucky we all are to have the Ninth Circuit.  And congratulations to Manuel’s tireless mother Genevieve Huizar, and her lawyers Dale Galipo and Humberto Guizar – this is a victory for all of us who want a more just world.

Anaheim City Attorney Moses Johnson (left) whose specialty has been the smearing of victims (and is now home fighting cancer), pulled out all the stops for the 2014 trial, deluging the jury with inflammatory accusations about Manuel’s past – some true, untrue, and exaggerated – to paint him as a menace to society.  The jury promptly ruled that the killing was justified, the foreman even reportedly observing, “Who were we gonna believe, a white cop or a latino gangbanger?”  Thing is, none of this background info on Manuel was known to the trigger-happy Bennallack, who only knew that a young Latino male had the gall to run away from him.  Hence, the Ninth Circuit ordering no dice, new trial WITHOUT any of that irrelevant defamation of the victim.

It would’ve at least been nice, while the other side was trashing Manuel in 2014, if Manuel’s side could have been allowed to point out that this was the second young, harmless Latino man Nick had shot in six months, the first being Bernie Villegas, who had been sitting in his apartment parking lot with friends, shooting bottles with a beebee gun. Or that Nick (right) and his friends proudly called himself Nick “Buckshot” Bennallack – a nickname which his critics have changed to “Backshot” in honor of where he shot both Manuel and Bernie.

What Genevieve (below) has said she wants all along is for Nick to be off the force, without a gun, and behind bars like any other murderer… and for this to be enough of a punishment so that other police will become a lot more reluctant to shoot fatally (which is the only way they’re taught to shoot) at a fleeing or otherwise non-dangerous suspect. 

As it is, these killer cops (many of them repeat offenders) seem to get rewarded, and respected by their colleagues.  Kelly Phillips, who shot three young Anaheim men two fatally, just keeps getting promoted, and I keep hearing “what a great guy” he is from other cops.  Kevin Flanagan, who fatally shot both Julian Alexander (costing Anaheim $1.55 million) and Monique Deckard (costing Anaheim his share of $189K) is now heading up the gang unit on Anna Drive.  Daron Wyatt wrongly killed Adolfo Sanchez (coming up for a re-trial soon) after killing someone else in Placentia; now you can see his high-paid grinning mug on the TV as the front man for both fire and police.

One thing that could have spurred the city council, city manager, and police department to reform would have been a healthy award to Genevieve, something like the $11 million she was asking for.  But the jury, now allowed to hear that Manuel had had a history of meth addiction and prison (whatever that has to do with the value of his life) settled on a mere 200K.  But it’s a little better than that on the punitive end:  The City will have to cover Genevieve’s legal fees, which’ll probably bring the total up to about $2.2 million. (Ironically about the same as the Kris Murray majority wasted trying to keep you all from choosing district elections for yourselves.)  Maybe that’s enough to get Anaheim’s attention:  We need serious Police Accountability Now.

Despite how tough the young guy tried to look on his Facebook photos, all his friends and family remember a loving and funny, “goofy” guy who would “light up the room.”  He had no history of violence;  all of his stints in prison were due to his meth addiction, something he fought occasionally and would have probably overcome.  Like millions of whiter or richer young men who never would have met his fate.

He died because he ran from the police, and he ran because he was high on meth and didn’t want to go back to prison for it ONE MORE TIME.  California’s legal system has been taking a slow but irreversible turn from incarceration and punishment to treatment and rehabilitation.  One thinks that if Manuel were born ten or even five years later, things might have turned out much differently, in this post-Prop 47 world.

The cops chased him because they’d seen him talking to a guy in a car, and thought he MIGHT be making a “drug deal.”  But the last thing his Anna Drive friends remember seeing him do was buying an orange from a food truck, eating it, and washing his hands from a hose.  Maybe he was discussing drugs with a friend in a car, maybe he wasn’t.  There’s plenty of things you could be talking about with a friend in a car.  But no matter what, this was no reason to kill this young man that so many loved.

Two months before Bennallack killed him, Manuel penned this short poem which seems to hint at recovery;  Genevieve has it tattooed on her arm:

Love Life.

When you wake up in the morning
Put a smile on your face.
Think about how God gave you another chance.
Love life, always think of the future.
Keep yourself straight, you’re gonna be great,
Put a smile on your face every day,
Love God and He will make your day.
Just think about the happy times and how you LOVELIFE.”

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 vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.