A Los Angeles police officer who was seen on cellphone video repeatedly striking a trespassing suspect in late April in Boyle Heights was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on a felony charge of assault under color of authority.
Following a preliminary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alison Estrada ruled there was sufficient evidence for the case against Frank Hernandez to proceed to trial and scheduled a Jan. 19 arraignment date for the 49-year-old defendant.
Hernandez stands accused of punching an unarmed man more than a dozen times in the head, neck and body during a confrontation on April 27, after the officer and his partner responded to a call of a trespasser in a vacant lot.
He faces up to three years in county jail if convicted of the charge, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
"In this case, we believe the force was neither legally necessary or reasonable," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said when Hernandez' June 9 arrest was announced.
Hernandez was taken into custody by the Los Angeles Police Department's Force Investigation Division and released less than an hour later on his own recognizance.
The charge came amid heightened scrutiny of the actions of police officers in the aftermath of George Floyd's May 25 death while being taken into custody by police in Minneapolis. Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests and amplified criticism by local groups who claimed Lacey had been reticent to prosecute police officers.
The county's top prosecutor repeatedly denied that accusation, saying she follows the law and the evidence in deciding which cases she can effectively prosecute. However, the concerns about her record may have helped challenger George Gascon wrest the D.A.'s post away from Lacey in a November run-off.
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 in May.
During the investigation, a fight broke out between the suspect and one officer, according to police, who said the officer sustained a minor hand injury and the suspect had cuts to his head and face but refused medical attention.
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. After reviewing that video along with additional footage from Hernandez's body-worn camera, the supervisor notified his commanding officer and investigators of the Internal Affairs Group responded to conduct a personnel complaint investigation, according to the LAPD statement.
The suspect was released from custody, pending further investigation.
Hernandez was assigned to home duty and stripped of all police powers as two internal investigations neared completion around the time of his arrest.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, issued a statement saying, ``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 Times reported in May that Hernandez has been involved in three on-duty shootings, including one in which he 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.
On May 5, LAPD Chief Michel Moore tweeted: ``Over the past several days there have been incidents reported in the news that are clearly not consistent with the core values of the Los Angeles Police Department. My pledge to you, is that when these instances occur and we fall short of your expectations there will be a thorough investigation. I intend to take a clear-eyed view and hold individuals accountable for behavior that is inconsistent with the high standards of this organization."
The tweet appeared to refer to the Boyle Heights arrest, and also to an incident in which an off-duty LAPD officer allegedly shot and wounded another off-duty LAPD officer during a camping trip in San Bernardino County. That officer was charged with assault with a firearm.