The fatal shooting of Manuel Diaz last summer sparked days of riots in Anaheim. But quieter protests have followed news that the Anaheim police officer who shot Diaz has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Genevieve Huizar, the mother of 25-year-old Diaz, had hoped to come to the Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana to hear that the District Attorney would file charge against Nick Benallack, the officer involved in the fatal shooting.
Instead, she led a small and peaceful protest, holding a sign with a photo of her son. Next to that photo was another – this one, of Bennallack in a boxing ring.
“I will not stop until he’s arrested, goes to trial, and goes to prison," said Huizar.
Prosecutors ruled Bennallack's shooting of Diaz was justified, even though Diaz had not committed any crime when he was approached by Bennallack.
Photos of Diaz "flashing his gang signs"
At a news conference, Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner showed menacing pictures of Diaz—a known gang member in a known gang area—that were recovered from the cell phone found next to his body.
“There are hundreds of photos there, 15 of each which show Diaz flashing his gang signs and/or displaying his tattoos, 20 of them with handguns," Wagner told reporters. "Four different handguns are depicted in the photos.”
But Guadalupe Diaz says her brother was goodhearted young man who got mixed up with the wrong crowd after he was sent to prison on a gun charge.
“My brother was a good person and they’re trying to make him seem like a big old bad, mean guy, but he wasn’t,” said Diaz. “He shouldn’t have died that day. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. If anything, he was in fear of his life.”
Diaz says the sometimes violent response to the shooting last summer was the wrong approach because it put people in danger. Her family has filed a $50 million dollar civil suit against the city of Anaheim.
Peaceful protests targeting Anaheim police to continue
Diaz will also continue peaceful protests, along with others—among them, Barbara Padilla—who have had loved ones killed in shootings by Anaheim police.
“I don’t live in a bad neighborhood," said Padilla. "My son was walking down the street wearing a hoodie one rainy day, and a cop took it in his hands to murder my son.”
The District Attorney's office found that officers acted justifiably when they shot Padilla’s 22-year-old son two years ago.
Padilla disagrees. She held her son’s picture next to a list of names of other men she says were murdered by Anaheim police.
“These cops shoot their victims like they’re dogs in the street," said Padilla. "Who do these cops think they are? They’re not God.”
The U.S. Attorney, the FBI and the Los Angeles-based Office of Independent Review are still investigating Anaheim police.
The ACLU has joined a chorus of voices – including Anaheim’s mayor - saying the department should establish a civilian review board.
The police union is opposed.