Anaheim’s Days of Rage: Remembering This Weekend Ten Years Ago (2012.)

The following is basically three or four Facebook posts I felt compelled to post this past Thursday to Sunday.

July 21

Ten years ago tonight, Anaheim Officer Nick Bennalack killed unarmed, 25-year old Manuel Diaz on Anna Drive. He shot him in the back and the back of the head as Manuel ran away, claiming he thought Manuel had a gun. This would turn out to be the second of FOUR (mostly unarmed) young men Bennalack would kill.

The Orange County DA said it was all fine, as he always does. But Manuel’s mother, the late lamented Genevieve Huizar, took it to court. And lost there. And appealed. And WON IN CA SUPREME COURT – a verdict of EXCESSIVE FORCE against Bennallack (along with an embarrassingly small award.) Bennallack AS FAR AS WE CAN TELL is no longer working as a cop, but it’s hard to know any details cuzza POBAR you know.

Manuel’s killing was the 6th of SEVEN in a twelve-month period, by Anaheim police, of (mostly) unarmed young (mostly Mexican-American) men. They killed Joel Acevedo the following night. After those last two killings, there were riots, protests, a few modest reforms (bodycams, a weak Police Review Board), and a two-year lull in the killings.

Possibly Genevieve’s most important victory was the precedent that police attorneys can no longer talk about irrelevant things the victim may have done OR MAY HAVE BEEN SUSPECTED OF in the past – especially irrelevant with Bennalack who didn’t even have any idea who Manuel was. Genevieve moved to Arizona, and tragically died of COVID last year. SAY HIS NAME – MANUEL ANGEL DIAZ!

Orange Juice coverage over the years:

July 22

Ten years ago tonight is when Anaheim Officer Kelly Phillips fatally shot 21-year-old Joel “Joey” Acevedo on Güinida Lane. Phillips claimed, after eight days of getting his story straight AND straight with his partners, that Joey had been firing a gun at him (in the middle of fleeing) and so Phillips had to shoot Joey in self-defense.

I’m working on a piece that focuses more on Joey’s life than his death, entitled “The Criminalization and Assassination of Joel Acevedo” – the tragic end of his life may have been shared by hundreds of other (mostly) minority youth, but the criminalization throughout his short life is shared by many THOUSANDS. So it’s an important story. But for now I’ll list JUST A FEW of the reasons that we don’t believe the police story that Joey was armed or was shooting at Phillips:

  • The story the police were telling the press changed dramatically after the first hour – at first Deputy Craig Hunter told the OC Weekly’s Amber Stephens (as well as Joey’s mother Donna) that they found a gun in the SUV Joey had been riding in; then they suddenly changed the story to: Joey had fired that gun three times at Philips after running into a parking lot and hiding.
  • Hunter wouldn’t let Donna see her son’s body; he did offer to let her sister see the body, but then he told her “Only if you agree to testify that you saw a gun on him.” She cussed him out and left.

  • We just learned from the Times that gunshot residue tests WERE taken of Joey’s hands, although the police told his mother multiple times that they weren’t. These tests (which if negative would have proven that Joey did not fire a gun) were never analyzed or reported on. The excuse, now, is that “they wouldn’t have proved anything anyway.” And in 2019 when SB 1421 was passed, which would have made these tests available to the public, the Sheriffs’ forensic team destroyed them.

  • The police had been chasing Joey for days, for whatever reason.

  • After the initial gunshots, as witnesses tried to watch and film, the police aimed bright lights at them so they couldn’t see what was happening. (It was late at night.)

  • The wounds on his body are hard to square with Phillips’ account of how he shot him.

  • His friend Vanessa “Mona” Duran’s account was more credible; she had nothing to gain from her testimony, so the authorities worked hard to both intimidate and discredit her.

  • All of this points to the gun, whether it was found in the SUV or was a police “throwaway gun,” being planted on him, just as it looks in the photograph planted awkwardly between his legs.

  • We’ve never mentioned this publicly, but in the leadup to the trial, the City of Anaheim offered Joey’s mother $340,000 – one of the highest settlements they’d offered anyone at that point – to shut up and go away. Donna refused the money, preferring to have the truth, her son vindicated, and Phillips punished. (After that the case was screwed up by a drug-abusing attorney but that’s another story.)

But I’ll have a story of Joey’s LIFE up in the next few days. “The Criminalization and Assassination of Joel Acevedo.”

July 24

TEN YEARS AGO TONIGHT in Anaheim were the protests/”riot” – the people just couldn’t take all the killing any more. I wasn’t there, but someone who was reported the following:

“There’s a happening in Anaheim. Today at 4pm at Anaheim City Hall (Council meeting), people gathered in protest to voice their opinions on the unjust actions that occurred over the weekend involving the Anaheim Police Department. It started off angry, but peaceful. About 30 minutes in people began to assemble in front of the city council doors as the meeting began, people chanting, and holding up signs.

“Minutes later cops lined up outside the doors with helmets and batons trying to back us up, we stood strong. officer then jabbed an older man with a baton, and people got a little more aggressive.

“We then blocked the streets in a march to the Anaheim Police station, it was peaceful and awesome to see hundreds of people in the streets of Anaheim, the group was fluid and moved in unison. We stood outside of the APD for a good few moments and decided to head back together to city hall.

“Back at city hall we stood again outside chanting, gathered. After a few minutes a cop car came out that said ‘Keep away Police K9!’ We gathered around the police car and he started to back off. As the car backed away 6 cops jumped out of nowhere with big guns (I assumed rubber bullets) and ran towards the people at City hall we all started running towards them the cops got up and started to fall back. People were throwing bottles and sand telling them to ‘GO AWAY,’ and they backed off.

“After they backed off hundreds of cops gathered around from all over Orange County, we stood strong, things were calm and they backed away. Some of heard that others demonstrators were waiting on Ball and Anaheim Blvd, we divided and about 100 of us took to the streets.

“We ended up at the Yogi’s death place [Joel Acevedo’s death-place on Guinida Lane] and were blocked in by SWAT all around. We then separated and ended up back at city hall. “Back at city hall cops trapped a group of people near the mortuary, the chief of police then made an announcement around 9 pm of a dispersal Order. Once that happened, cops started to shoot the people in the mortuary, and started shooting at us, and throw tear gas, people started fleeing, the cops lined up and walked towards us shooting at us.

“A man was standing holding his two fingers in a peace sign and about five/six cops shot at him continuously as he yelled ‘NO JUSTICE NO PEACE!’ A few of us stood close chanting, and as they continued to shoot. After a few minutes people began to run off and started to break shit. Cops came in closer, closing us in. Near the destroyed Starbucks a man was standing, the cops shot his leg and arrested him.

“We all were in the parking lot, people started to burn trashcans, cops kept shooting. walking in on us. People chanting, yelling, cursing. After awhile, the area was almost empty and people were scattered. This is when I decided to leave. “The bushes were on fire and I put them out with my feet. As I left I got a flat tire on my bike. Near the freeway, police from Irvine came zooming down, and more helicopters flew over head. I came home in hopes that all the media there would be showing what was happening, but of course there was NOTHING.”

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The press and media finally did report, the next day, on what happened in Anaheim July 24, 2012, but all they reported was the “riot” that night, and that’s all most people remember. The video below shows what really happened. This angry but peaceful and unarmed crowd was trying to walk from the Guinida neighborhood (where Joey had just been killed) to the 4pm City Council meeting, to speak to their government about all the recent police killings. And as you can see, a line of cops in riot gear stopped them on the street and wouldn’t let them pass. THIS is how it all began July 24.

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OJ Blog coverage at the time (mostly by Greg Diamond)

[Note – these were all posted in the ONE DAY between Manuel’s and Joey’s killing!]

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.