Civil rights leaders on Monday called for criminal charges to be filed against a Los Angeles police officer shown beating a man in the head in a recent viral video, even as the county’s top prosecutor asked for patience during a review.
The activists argued the footage was indisputable proof of a felony assault, and that Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey should respond immediately.
“I’m getting social media messages from all across the country wondering why she hasn’t filed charges yet based on the video footage itself,” South Los Angeles leader Najee Ali said outside Lacey’s office Monday afternoon.
Lacey said she is waiting for the Los Angeles Police Department to complete its investigation into the April 27 arrest in Boyle Heights and deliver the findings to her office. Only then will she be able to pass judgment on the officer’s actions, she said.
“Anytime you see someone with their hands behind their back and getting hit in the head like that multiple times, that is disturbing. As a human being, I look at that and say: ‘How did this happen? What led up to this?’” Lacey said. “But as the lead prosecutor in the D.A.’s office, I know that I need to exercise judgment in what I say publicly, because I don’t want this office disqualified or recused for prejudging the evidence. So I’m waiting to see all of what’s out there.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, another civil rights leader, said Lacey already has the evidence she needs, and must hold the officer accountable if Angelenos are to believe that cops in the city are held to the same legal standards as everyone else.
“Jackie Lacey can send a message,” Hutchinson said. “The message is this: When you violate the law, it doesn’t make any difference whether you have a badge, a gun and wear a uniform. You’re gonna be arrested, you’re gonna be prosecuted, you’re gonna be convicted, you’re gonna be held accountable. You are not above the law.”
The video circulating on the internet, recorded by a bystander, shows two officers arresting a man who others have described as homeless and who had been reported as trespassing in the area. At one point, as the man stood with his arms behind his back, one of the officers begins lobbing punches at the man’s head. As the man bends down and away to avoid the blows, the officer keeps at it.
The officer has been assigned to home pending investigations by the Internal Affairs and Force Investigation divisions, the LAPD said. Two law enforcement sources, both of whom requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the case, identified him as Officer Frank Hernandez, a veteran with more than 20 years on the force who has come into controversy before.
After one of three on-duty shootings in Hernandez’s career, there were violent protests in Westlake.
David Winslow, an attorney for the officer in the video, would not confirm or deny the officer’s identity; he said his client was threatened by the man, who was struggling just before the first punch.
“The use of force is justified because the officer believed he was under attack from the suspect,” Winslow said Monday.
Ali and Hutchinson challenged Winslow’s account, saying it is clear from the video that the man, who was released after the incident without charge, was not resisting arrest when Hernandez started throwing punches.
“I was horrified that another human being could actually viciously beat someone in that manner,” Ali said. “It’s inexcusable, and there was no justification or reason that anyone can see for that man to be beaten and assaulted that way by a police officer.”
Hutchinson said the officer’s actions cannot be justified.
“I saw an officer look like Mike Tyson, wailing away on him,” he said. “If you look very carefully at the video, you saw the suspect with his back moving away, walking away, and the officer is still totally out of control, continuing to beat and beat.”
Hutchinson said the second officer’s failure to intervene was “almost as disturbing.”
“What she was doing and what I saw was a code of silence: one officer protecting another officer. That in many ways is just as horrifying,” he said.
Police officials have said the second officer is on administrative duty pending the investigation into the incident. They’ve said footage from the officer’s body-worn camera will be released publicly soon.
Ali and Hutchinson said they were concerned Lacey would not charge Hernandez in part because of her past decisions not to file charges in the fatal shooting of Brendon Glenn by LAPD Officer Clifford Proctor near the Venice boardwalk or the beating of Marlene Pinnock by a California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew along the 10 Freeway.
Lacey said that while her office determined charges were not supported in those cases, her office has prosecuted cops when they have broken the law in other cases.
“We’re not reluctant to try officers for use of force, but we’ve learned by experience as prosecutors that we have to wait and look at all the evidence to see what we have,” she said.
In the Boyle Heights case, her office will review not just the viral video, but any other video from the scene and any available statements made by the officer, the man who was punched, the second officer and the bystander who shot the video, among others.
Ali said she should make a decision before November, when she is up for reelection, so that this case can be a “litmus test” for voters. Lacey’s runoff challenger, former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón, has said the officer should be charged with assault.
Lacey would not say when the evidence review might be completed.
Based on the law and the U.S. criminal justice system, many excessive force cases “boil down” to what was going on in the mind of the officer involved as the events were unfolding, she said.
Determining that is “difficult,” she said, and takes time.
Times staff writers James Queally and Richard Winton contributed to this article.