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Update: LAPD Officer Sucker Punches a Man in Boyle Heights, Caught on Video

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]n alarming video of an LAPD officer brutally punching a man in Boyle Heights has been making the rounds on social media this morning. The cell phone video, recorded on April 27 on the 2400 block of Houston Street, begins at around 5pm with two uniformed officers (a man and woman officer) approaching a man accused of trespassing.

After multiple verbal requests to turn around and place his hands behind his back, the man complies. “Don’t fight,” one of the male LAPD officers says repeatedly while trying to handcuff the man. “I’m not fighting,” the man replies.

Moments later, seemingly out of nowhere, the male LAPD officer breaks out into a series of blows to the head and body while his partner hangs back.

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*Warning this video features strong language and violence. Viewer discretion is advised.

The LAPD officer lands over a dozen punches in less than 10 seconds. At one point, he violently throws his glasses to the ground. “Come on you fucker!” The officer says as he continues to punch the man before roping him up with his arms.

The man doesn’t fight back. “What the fuck is wrong with you motherfucker?” He says as the punching stops and the officer grabs a hold of his torso. “You’re not cooperating,” the officer says before cocking his fist back again as if he’s going to punch him. “Get on the fucking ground,” the male officer says.

About a minute into the video, another LAPD patrol car arrives and two additional officers quickly hop out. As more units arrive to the scene, a tenant walks out of an apartment, “He’s the most friendly guy,” they said in the man’s defense. “Get the fuck inside,” the LAPD officer that punched the man says back, “He’s the most friendly guy? He fucking attacked me,” he adds as the man is put in handcuffs.

On Wednesday, L.A. Taco caught up with the Boyle Heights man that watched the incident unfold from across the street. He says that while there were lots of eyes on the altercation, he was the only person to record it on video. "Honestly, I thought the cop was going to pull his gun out." The witness told L.A. Taco that he was afraid things would escalate and that he might get caught in the cross fire. "I was just in shock that this was happening."

One detail that he says caught his attention and wasn't explicitly clear in the video footage, the LAPD officer allegedly spat in the man's face after roping him up. "Right after he says 'what the fucks wrong with you?' I didn't notice until I re-watched the video. The victim didn't even realize it happened until I showed him."

The witness, says he handed over his footage to the LAPD and was interviewed multiple times over several different days. One of the sergeants that interviewed him alleged that the man had a knife, was grabbing his hands and attacked him. "In the video, it's very clear that is not the case. His body worn camera was "knocked off" before they made any physical contact."

On June 9, 2020, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey charged Frank Hernandez, the LAPD officer seen in the video punching the 28 year old Boyle Heights man over a dozen times in the head, neck and body, with one count of felony assault under color of authority. Hernandez is facing a maximum of three years in county jail.

Billy, one of the sons of the patriarch behind the popular Carnitas El Momo, grew up with the man seen being punched by the LAPD officer. The beloved taco shop is just a quarter mile away from where the April 27 incident occurred. "We were born and raised on the same block, he actually lives under a tent right by where they attacked him." Billy declines to call the man "homeless" though, "He just doesn't have a home to go to. It's easy to get wrapped up in the sad life when you don't have family members or someone to guide you towards the right direction."

Billy describes his long-time friend as a "humble" and "peaceful" man. According to Billy "He's that guy that is there at the right time when you need to move something heavy or push a car or help you dump some trash, whatever the case is he's that helping hand to the barrio. He doesn't bother anybody."

In a statement from May 4, the LAPD called the video “disturbing.” After reviewing body-worn video footage and cell phone footage recorded by a witness, a supervisor notified his commanding officer which sparked an investigation by the Internal Affairs Division (the Chief of Police’s investigation arm). Some community members – including Black Lives Matter L.A. – were alarmed that the LAPD waited a week to release a statement, seemingly only after footage started to circulate widely on social media.

The LAPD statement says that the man was released from custody. The L.A. Times reported that he was not charged with a crime. 

“While we are withholding judgment on the actions of the involved officer at the time, the officer has been assigned home pending further investigation. Additionally, the department has notified the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office, Justice System Integrity Division who is monitoring this investigation as well as the Department of the Inspector General.”

The use of force incident will also be examined by the Use of Force Department of the LAPD. Aside from the district attorney office and inspector general, all of the departments investigating this matter are affiliated with the LAPD. 

Hamid Kahn, of Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an alliance of organizations that reject all forms of police oppression and any policy that make people suspects in the eyes of the State, told L.A. Taco "This is not the first time that the LAPD will investigate themselves. We continue to get the same results, we continue to get the same level of violence and corruption and physical violence. So in a sense that's the culture. The question is what will the investigation lead to?"

The L.A. Times has identified the officer involved in the incident as Frank Hernandez, a 20 year veteran with the LAPD that has been involved in three on-duty shootings during the span of his career.

Kahn describes police violence as "institutional"and "deeply cultural."

"I think the bigger issue always is how this is in-policy. The community might not agree with that but that's again an institutional thing. We also have to realize that this is an enforcement agency, we should be expecting violence from them because that's exactly how they're set up. Our goal is not really looking at reforming things, this is something to dismantle," Kahn said over the phone.

There has already been over 13 use of force incidents in 2020, which includes everything from injuries to police shootings. Last year, there were 36. In the last three days, the LAPD has addressed three separate officer-involved shootings that occurred between April 27 and May 3, including a shooting that involved three LAPD employees that occurred outside of the county on Sunday. One of the employees was taken into custody and charged with murder, while the victim, also an employee with the department, was airlifted to a nearby hospital and is expected to survive.

An officer with the media relations department declined to answer any more questions regarding the incident on April 27 in Boyle Heights and directed L.A. Taco to their previous statement.

On May 12, the LAPD Media Relations Department released body-worn video footage from the April 27 incident. You can watch the video here.

L.A. Taco will update this story as more details become available.

This story was last updated on May 20, 2020 at 4:20pm.

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