Boyle Heights -- A Los Angeles police officer who was seen on cell- phone video repeatedly striking a trespassing suspect in late April was charged with a felony count of assault under color of authority, District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced today.
Frank Hernandez, 49, is set to be arraigned Thursday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
"In this case, we believe the force was neither legally necessary or reasonable," the county's top prosecutor said in a written statement.
The charge against Hernandez comes amid heightened scrutiny of the actions of police officers in the wake of George Floyd's death while being taken into custody by police in Minneapolis. Floyd's death has sparked nationwide protests, and has amplified criticism by local groups who claim Lacey has been reticent to prosecute police officers. Lacey has repeatedly denied the accusation.
Hernandez allegedly punched the unarmed man more than a dozen times in the head, neck and body during a confrontation April 27, after the officer and his partner responded to a call of a trespasser in a vacant lot, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Hernandez, and another Hollenbeck Division officer, responded to the 2400 block of Houston Street, near Soto Street, where they located a man trespassing on private property and directed him to leave, according to an LAPD statement issued last month.
During the investigation, a fight broke out between the suspect and one officer, police said. The officer sustained a minor hand injury and the suspect had cuts to his head and face, but refused medical attention, according to the statement.
A supervisor was called to the scene and a witness who saw a portion of the fight gave the supervisor a copy of a cellphone video, the statement said.
AGRO COP ASSAULTS NON VIOLENT FOO IN BOYLE HEIGHTS pic.twitter.com/VPeIpVG4YG— FOOS GONE WILD (@foosgonewild) May 5, 2020
"Upon review of the content of the cellphone video and the involved officer's body worn video, the supervisor notified his commanding officer and investigators of the Internal Affairs Group responded to conduct a personnel complaint investigation," police said.
The suspect was released from custody, pending further investigation, the department said.
A formal investigation was launched and Hernandez was assigned to home duty pending the results of the investigation, police said.
In response to the charge being filed, LAPD Chief Michel Moore on Thursday said, "The department has taken this matter very seriously from day one, and he will be held accountable for his actions."
Police said Hernandez is still assigned to home duty, and he has been stripped of all police powers. Two internal investigations "are nearing completion," according to the LAPD.
Hernandez faces up to three years in county jail if convicted of the charge, which was filed Monday, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The Los Angeles Times reported last month that Hernandez has been involved in three on-duty shootings, including one in which he allegedly shot and killed a Guatemalan day laborer after the man allegedly drunkenly wielded a knife and threatened two women in the Westlake area in September 2010. The suspect had allegedly lunged at officers.
Attorneys for Richard Castillo, the man who was beaten, have sued the City of Los Angeles and members of its police force for allegedly using excessive force and spitting in his face during an altercation.
A spokesman for the City Attorney's Office said the office will review the lawsuit, but had no further comment.
Castillo, who said he has lived most of his life in the 2400 block of Houston Street and was raised two houses away from the vacant lot, alleges he was assaulted and held overnight in jail for no legal reason.
Castillo contends that the officers believed he was trespassing, but the owner of the vacant lot has long been aware of his presence on the property and has never told him to leave.
Similarly, for several years, members of an adjacent church, which sometimes uses the lot for parking, have also aware of his presence and have never instructed him to leave the premises, according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court.
"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.