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The Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday released video from the body-worn cameras used by two officers who were involved in the violent beating of an unarmed Boyle Heights man that has sparked community outrage and calls for one of the officers to be fired and criminally prosecuted.
A cell phone video of the April 27 violent clash, recorded by a third-party witness and posted on social media a week after the incident, prompted the LAPD to release a statement on May 4 saying the unidentified officer had been assigned to home duty and was being investigated for alleged assault.
On Monday, the man seen in the video repeatedly punched by the officer, sued the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD for allegedly using excessive force and spitting in his face during the altercation. The lawsuit identifies the man as Richard Castillo.
The 17-minute-long edited video posted on the police department’s YouTube account Monday includes a statement from police LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who called the situation disturbing and said he was compelled to release the video, even though he was not mandated by law to do so. It was the first time the department has released a video solely at the discretion of the chief.
Warning: the video contains violent scenes and profanity.
“I, along with many of you, watched the third-party video that was released last week, and I have serious concerns,” Moore said.
The LAPD YouTube post contains audio from the 911 call that prompted the officers to respond, in which a man complains that two people, a man and a woman, are impeding him from entering an empty lot he owns next to a Boyle Heights church. The edited video also contains portions of the body cam footage from both officers, as well as the third-party video and a subtitled transcript of the verbal exchange between the two officers and the man.
While the LAPD has not identified the officer being investigated for assault, anonymous sources told the Los Angeles Times he is Frank Hernández, a 23-year department veteran who has been involved in at least three shootings. In one of the videos, his partner is heard referring to him as “Frank.”
Hernández video initially shows how the officers enter the empty lot next to the Church of God of the Prophecy on the 2400 block of Houston Street, from the alley behind the properties. The officers approach Castillo, who stands up from his makeshift camp and leaves the lot with his bicycle, walks in front of the church and stands just past the building.
Hernández appears to turn the audio on just as he approaches Castillo and orders him to turn around. In a short struggle with the man, Hernández’s camera falls to the ground and for the rest of the video only captures the audio from the encounter.
The video from Hernández’s partner, shot from a different angle, shows Castillo turning to face Hernández and verbally defying him during the struggle, but it does not show him punching or physically attacking Hernández. An exchange of profanities escalates between the two. Then the video shows Castillo with his hands behind his back, waiting to be handcuffed by Hernández, who suddenly begins punching the man in the back and head.
After Hernández stops punching Castillo, he asks his partner to use her stun gun. The video shows she pulls the gun but doesn’t use it; instead she is heard calling for backup.
When two other officers arrive and put the man in handcuffs, Hernández yells at Castillo: “You [expletive] grabbed my hand [expletive], that’s why I hit you.” Castillo denies grabbing Hernández’s hand.
Hernández also tells the backup officers that the man grabbed his hand, but the video does not show that. When a neighbor complains to the officers that the man in handcuffs “is the nicest guy,” Hernández yells back “He [expletive] attacked me… Get inside.”
The LAPD said that the female officer involved in the incident was placed on administrative duty during the investigation.
City News Service reported Monday that attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of Castillo, whom the document identifies as a lifelong Boyle Heights resident.
According to the suit filed in federal court, Castillo has lived most of his life in the 2400 block of Houston Street and was raised two houses away from the church where the alleged assault took place.
In the suit, attorneys contend that LAPD officers believed that Castillo was trespassing on the lot next to where he was allegedly assaulted by one officer as another officer looked on without intervening. The suit says Castillo was held overnight at the Hollenbeck police station for no legal reason.
The lawsuit further claims that the owner of the empty lot, sometimes used for church parking, was aware of Castillo’s presence and never asked him to leave. (The man heard on the 911 call, however, said he had complained more than once about his being on his property.) Similarly, the lawsuit contends, members of the church who used the lot for parking never asked the plaintiff to leave the property.
“As a member of the Boyle Heights community, plaintiff and his dog, Mamas, are well-known by the neighborhood, who has accepted [him] as one of their own,” the suit says.
Castillo was struck by the unnamed male officer “in the face, head and body,” while the other officer stood by, the suit alleges. During the exchange, the suit further alleges, the officer who was punching Castillo “intentionally and purposefully” spit in his face.
“Throughout the incident, plaintiff was terrified for his life, and was experiencing substantial pain and suffering,” according to the complaint. Castillo, who was not seriously injured and refused medical treatment, was handcuffed and taken to the Hollenbeck station where he was kept overnight in a cell.
A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office would not comment on the lawsuit, other than to confirm that it would be reviewed. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman told CNS that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
ANGRY REACTIONS AND PROTESTS
The alleged assault caught on video has sparked angry reactions from civil rights leaders and grassroots activists who are calling for the LAPD to fire officer Hernández and for the District Attorney to prosecute the officer, who was cleared in the three shootings in which he was involved.
On Monday, demonstrators who gathered in front of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office said there was enough evidence in the video to prosecute Hernández. The Los Angeles Times reported that Lacey said her office would wait until the LAPD concluded its investigation before deciding what action to take. However Lacey decides could affect her chances for reelection in a contested November runoff. Her opponent, former San Francisco D.A. George Gascón, has said the officer should be charged with assault.
The Boyle Heights group Centro CSO, which has begun an online petition to get the LAPD to dismiss Hernández, has announced it will hold a protest Friday afternoon in front of Hollenbeck station. A similar protest was held last Friday at the same Boyle Heights station.