The Hollenbeck police officer seen in a video violently punching an unarmed Boyle Heights man has been charged with a single count of felony assault, authorities said Tuesday.
Frank Hernández, a 23-year LAPD veteran, was arrested Tuesday afternoon and released on his own recognizance in less than an hour, the Los Angeles Times reported. His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday in a downtown courtroom, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said in a release.
“This is a disturbing case of the illegal use of force at the hands of a police officer,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in the release. “In this case, we believe the force was neither legally necessary nor reasonable.”
The charge – one felony count of assault under color of authority – was announced less than a week after the District Attorney received the case from the Los Angeles Police Department. After a cell phone video captured by a bystander of the April 27 incident was posted on social media, police said Hernández was being investigated for assault and placed on home duty.
On Tuesday, the LAPD said its investigation was “nearing completion” and announced that Hernández had been stripped of all police powers – but not fired.
“The Department has taken this matter very seriously from day-one and he will be held accountable for his actions,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in a statement.
Hernández, 49, could face up to three years in county jail if convicted of the felony.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the union representing Hernández issued a rare statement condemning what was portrayed in the videos.
“While we have a fiduciary responsibility to provide our members with assistance through the internal affairs administrative process, what we saw on that video was unacceptable and is not what we are trained to do” the Los Angeles Police Protective League Board of Directors said.
Hernández was one of two Hollenbeck officers who responded to a trespassing call, about a man who had set up a tent on an empty lot next to a church on the 2400 block of Houston Street. The bystander video posted on social media about a week after the incident, shows Hernández punching an unarmed man in the head and upper body more than a dozen times.
On May 4, the police department said the officer had been assigned to home duty and was being investigated for alleged assault. On May 12, in an unusual move, the LAPD released videos from body cameras worn by Hernández and his partner –even though the release was not required by law.
CAUTION: VIDEO CONTAINS VIOLENCE AND PROFANITY
The man beaten by Hernández – who suffered abrasions but refused medical attention – sued the city and the police. In the suit, lawyers identify Richard Castillo as a lifelong Boyle Heights resident raised in a home a few houses down from the spot where he was assaulted. Several Boyle Heights residents have said they recognize Castillo from the video and know him as a neighbor.
After the LA Times reported that Hernández had been involved in three shootings over a 20-year span – including the 2010 killing of a Guatemalan day laborer in the Westlake area – local activists called for his firing and prosecution.
The day before the LAPD released its videos, several civil rights leaders protested in front of Lacey’s downtown office, calling for criminal charges to be filed in the case. At the time, Lacey said she would wait for the LAPD to conclude its investigation before looking into the case.
Lacey, who faces a tough reelection challenge in November, has been criticized by activists for not prosecuting officers involved in excessive use of force. Following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Lacey has been targeted at protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Lacey received the case from the LAPD on June 2. In an interview on KPCC that day, Lacey said that “charging police officers with a crime is one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced as a district attorney.”
On Tuesday, LAist reported:
Lacey, who spoke to us again today, said the combination of bystander video and the body cam video from both Hernandez and an officer standing next to him “clearly gave us enough evidence to charge Officer Hernandez with excessive force, which is a felony in California.”
Asked about the speed of her decision to file charges, Lacey differentiated this case from police shootings, which she said often require additional investigation. “When this case was delivered by the LAPD, they had everything ready.”
She noted the video evidence showed “clearly unprovoked force being used against someone who was submitting to arrest.”
Lacey said she wasn’t prepared to answer questions about three shootings by Hernandez, reported by the L.A. Times late last week, because she had not yet reviewed those files.
Hernández was one of several LAPD officers and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies targeted at a May 30 Boyle Heights protest against police brutality and racism organized by Centro CSO: Community Service Organization.
“I’m glad that he’s charged,” Montes told the Times, “but I hope that he’s found guilty, though. I’m always a little leery of the trial process.”
This post was updated at 12:15 with additional details, statement from police union.
OUR COVERAGE OF THE FRANK HERNÁNDEZ CASE
June 3, 2020 – Boyle Heights protests against police brutality, racism
June 3, 2020 – District Attorney gets Boyle Heights police beating case