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Court Reverses Verdict That Cleared Anaheim Cop Of 2012 Shooting

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A federal appeals court decided unanimously on Wednesday to overturn a 2014 jury ruling that cleared an Anaheim officer of the wrongful death of 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, reports the L.A. Times.

On the afternoon of July 21, 2012, Diaz was on Anna Drive in Anaheim when he spotted a patrol car and began running, reports the OC Register. Officer Nick Bennallack, one of the policemen who gave chase, followed Diaz into the courtyard of an apartment complex. At some point Diaz turned around with his hands concealed, Bennallack later claimed. It was at this time that Bennallack shot Diaz in the buttocks and the head. No firearms were found on Diaz, but Anaheim police claimed that it was possible that Diaz had thrown away a gun as he was running, and that someone else had taken it.

Diaz's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Anaheim and Bennallack. The jury deliberated for two hours before concluding that Bennallack had not committed any wrongdoing. One of the jurors said that because Anna Drive was infested with gangs officers could reasonably presume that Diaz had a gun.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the 2014 ruling in their decision Wednesday, siding with Diaz's family, who claimed that the jury had been influenced by "inflammatory evidence" that "had no relevance to the key issue in the case," according to court documents. Among this evidence was Diaz's gang affiliation and drug use. "Defendants introduced (over repeated objection) photographs of Diaz posing with firearms and making gang signs," wrote Judge John B. Owens. He added that the defendants had also "expounded on the activities and customs of violent gangs and described Diaz's moniker of 'Stomper,' his criminal history, and his tattoos in great detail." The appeals court has called for a new trial to be held.

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Diaz's death touched off a firestorm in Anaheim. On July 25, 2012, 600 demonstrators marched through downtown Anaheim to protest the shooting. The crowd was seen smashing windows and throwing rocks at officers; by the end of the day 24 people were arrested.