Los Angeles police officer accused of repeatedly punching man is charged

Phil Helsel and Andrew Blankstein
·3 min read

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles police officer who was seen on video repeatedly punching a man in an encounter in April has been charged with felony assault, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Officer Frank Hernandez, 49, is set to be arraigned Thursday, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

"This is a disturbing case of the illegal use of force at the hands of a police officer," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement. "We believe the force was neither legally necessary nor reasonable."

Prosecutors say that Hernandez and his partner responded to a call of a trespasser at a vacant lot in Boyle Heights on April 27 and that "during a confrontation between police and the victim, Hernandez is accused of illegally punching the unarmed man more than a dozen times in the head, neck and body."

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The victim's name was not disclosed in the statement. Richard Castillo last month filed a federal lawsuit stating that he was beaten in the incident, and his attorney confirmed that Castillo is the victim in the incident for which Hernandez is charged.

"I think it's a really good first step in restoring the public's faith in the legal system at this moment," Castillo's attorney, Wesley Ouchi, said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

"After seeing the videos, both the third-party video and the body camera video, as well, it's really difficult to justify not prosecuting him," Ouchi said.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office said no charges are being filed against the victim.

Hernandez has been stripped of all police powers and has been assigned home, the Los Angeles Police Department said. It said the complaint and use-of-force investigations are nearing completion.

"The Department has taken this matter very seriously from day-one and he will be held accountable for his actions," Police Chief Michel Moore said in a statement.

The incident was captured in video recorded by a bystander, and the police department also released body camera video. At the time, Moore called the use of force in the video disturbing and said the body camera video would not change that description.

In video that went viral, two officers can be seen appearing to order a man to turn around near a fence outside a church.

In that video, a male officer tells the man: "Don't fight. You're fighting, man." The man responds: "Ain't nobody fighting." The officer then throws punches to the back of the man's head while shouting profanities.

The lawsuit filed by Castillo says the officer used closed fists to repeatedly strike him for 20 or more seconds while the other officer "failed to intervene."

Hernandez was booked and released from custody Tuesday afternoon, a jail official said.

An attorney for Hernandez told NBC Los Angeles in May after video was released that he believed the officer would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

If convicted, Hernandez faces a possible maximum sentence of three years in county jail, the district attorney's office said.

The Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a police union, said in a statement that what is seen in the video is unacceptable.

"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 board said.

The alleged illegal use of force by Hernandez occurred around a month before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, which sparked protests across the country and prompted calls for police reform.