LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles police officer has been charged with assault for punching an unarmed trespassing suspect more than a dozen times in an encounter caught on video by a bystander, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Officer Frank Hernandez was charged with assault under color of authority.
Video from a bystander and cameras worn by officers shows Hernandez pummeling the man on April 27 as he stood with his hands behind his back, as if he was going to be handcuffed.
The charge comes less than a week after thousands of protesters galvanized by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis called for the ouster of District Attorney Jackie Lacey for doing little to prosecute police officers for shootings and other violence on the job.
Black Lives Matter and other groups have criticized Lacey, who is black, for not bringing charges in hundreds of police shootings during her more than seven years running the largest local prosecutors office in the U.S.
Lacey has said she has done the best she can but is up against laws that allow officers to use deadly force and make it difficult to bring charges. She said she’s prosecuted more than 20 police officers for use of force and has the only pending case in the state for an officer-involved shooting.
Lacey is up for re-election in a campaign that has focused on prosecuting police brutality and criminal justice reforms.
Hernandez, 49, could face up to three years in county jail if convicted of the felony.
The union representing Hernandez 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.
It was not immediately clear if Hernandez had a defense lawyer who could provide comment.
The incident occurred when police were called about a man trespassing in a vacant lot in the Boyle Heights neighborhood.
Hernandez and a female partner arrived, crouched through a hole in a chain link fence and approached the suspect, telling him to leave, according to videos provided by police. The man, who was wearing a Los Angeles Rams jersey, cursed at the officers but grabbed his bicycle and left the grassy plot.
The female officer told him to be on his way, but after walking down a sidewalk past a church, the suspect told the officers he lived there.
“You don’t live HERE anymore,” Hernandez said. “Bye.”
The suspect then asked what Hernandez was going to do and said he wasn’t afraid of him. Hernandez approached the man and told him to turn around.
“Ain’t nobody acting defiant,” the man said, as he continued to curse at the officer. “Ain’t nobody getting crazy but you.”
After a brief scuffle when the man initially refused to put his hands behind his back, the suspect faced a fence and appeared to comply with the order. Hernandez grabbed the man’s hands as if he was going to cuff him and then took a wild swing and punched the man in the right side of the head.
Hernandez then delivered a series of blows to the man’s head, neck and body, cursing at him the entire time.
“This is a disturbing case of the illegal use of force at the hands of a police officer,” Lacey said in a statement. “In this case, we believe the force was neither legally necessary nor reasonable.”
Hernandez has been stripped of police powers and assigned to home, the police department said.
Associated Press journalist Stefanie Dazio contributed to this report.