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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anaheim Officer Nicholas Bennallack Cleared in Two Police Involved Shootings

     Just before eleven o'clock on the night of January 2, 2012 in Anaheim, California, police officers responded to several 911 calls regarding a man with a shotgun at an apartment complex. SWAT officers at the scene ran down a 200-foot alleyway, and as they rounded a corner, saw Bernie Villegas holding a rifle. Anaheim police officer Nicholas Bennallack shot Villegas who was pronounced dead at the scene. The 36-year-old immigrant from the Philippines had been holding his son's BB gun. Villegas, an alleged drug dealer, had a 14-year-old daughter, and a son who was twelve.

     The Orange County District Attorney's office, following an investigation of the shooting, cleared Officer Bennallack of criminal wrongdoing. Villegas' family has filed a wrongful death suit against the city.

     On July 21, 2012, about six months after the Villegas shooting, Officer Bennallack and his partner Brett Heitmann were patrolling an Anaheim neighborhood considered a hotbed of gang activity. The officers spotted a car parked in an alley surrounded by several men. Officer Heitmann recognized the man standing on the vehicle's passenger side as 25-year-old Manuel Diaz. Diaz, a known gang member, had prior gun possession convictions.

     When officers Heitmann and Bennallack got out of the unmarked police car, Diaz ran down an alley leading to an apartment complex. As he fled, Diaz used both hands to hold up his trousers. The fleeing suspect ignored the officers' orders to stop. The officers caught up to Diaz at a wrought-iron fence. As they approached the suspect Diaz had his back to them. When he started to turn toward the officers, Bennallack, thinking that Diaz might have a gun, fired twice. One bullet hit Diaz in the buttocks, the other in the head. He died shortly after the shooting. Diaz had not been armed.

     A toxicology report revealed that Diaz, at the time of the shooting, had in his system methamphetamine, amphetamine, and a prescription medicine to prevent seizures.

     Following the Diaz shooting, Dana Douglas, the attorney who represented Bernie Villegas' relatives, filed a $50 million suit against the city on behalf of the Diaz family. Following Diaz's death, the Orange County District Attorney's Office opened an investigation of Officer Nicholas Bennallock. The officer had been an Anaheim police officer for five years.

     On March 20, 2013, Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner announced that Officer Bennallack had been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the Diaz shooting. According to the Orange County prosecutor, at the time of the fatal incident, the officer "believed he was in imminent danger. In such a scenario, one can have only a split-second to decide how to proceed."

     The Diaz family attorney, Dana Douglas, has a different take on the shooting. "This is like a rape case," she said. "Let's blame the victim." (In my view, that is not an appropriate analogy.)

    When a police officer, within a period of five years, shoots and kills two people, both of them unarmed, some will call him trigger-happy. Given the circumstances of these two police involved shootings, I don't think the term applies to Officer Bennallack.

     

2 comments:

  1. this guy needs to not be so biased in favor of law enforcement. or get a real job!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The police has the right to protect himself in any cases but sometimes even law enforcers should be more careful.
    Filipino Attorneys

    ReplyDelete