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LAPD releases body-camera video of beating of homeless Boyle Heights man

LAPD Chief Michel Moore decided to release video from officers' body-worn cameras connected to a violent incident in Boyle Heights.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore decided to release video from officers’ body-worn cameras connected to a violent incident in Boyle Heights.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday released video from an officer’s body camera depicting a violent clash in Boyle Heights that appeared to show the officer punching an unarmed homeless man, leading to allegations of brutality and calls for the officer to be fired and prosecuted.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore called the situation “disturbing” and said he felt compelled to release the recording after a separate cellphone video leaked last week, leading to a public outcry.

“I, along with many of you, watched the third-party video that was released last week, and I have serious concerns,” Moore said.

The video that surfaced online last week showed an officer punching a man repeatedly in the head and body, despite the fact that he did not appear to be struggling or armed. The man has his hands behind his back as the video starts and at one point appears to be trying to stumble away from the officer.

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The man sustained minor injuries and refused medical attention, according to the LAPD. He was not charged with a crime and was released the same night, authorities said.

The officer has since been identified by two law enforcement sources as Frank Hernandez, a 20-year LAPD veteran who has been involved in prior controversial on-duty shootings. The officer has been assigned to home pending the outcome of investigations by the department’s Internal Affairs and Force Investigation divisions.

Moore also released video captured by the officer’s partner’s body-worn camera Tuesday. The officers were responding to a call from a property owner who claimed the man was trespassing on a vacant lot next to a church in the 2400 block of Houston Street around 5 p.m. on April 27, authorities said.

Footage of an L.A. police officer repeatedly punching a man who appears to be unarmed and surrendering in Boyle Heights draws a furious response online.

Video taken from Hernandez’s camera shows the officers walking through a lot and approaching the man, who stands up from his makeshift campsite and begins walking away with his bicycle as they approach. The man walks past the Church of God of Prophecy, then stops.

The man had refused to leave the area, according to audio captured by Hernandez’s partner’s body-worn camera. Hernandez then orders the man to turn around, and the man seems to struggle briefly, knocking Hernandez’s camera to the ground.

His partner’s video captured the rest of the incident from a different angle, which shows the man turn in to Hernandez as the officer’s camera falls to the ground. Hernandez’s attorney, David Winslow, told The Times last week that the man turned around and punched Hernandez in the chest, but the body-worn camera video does not appear to support that.

Winslow did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

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Warning: Video contains violence and profanity.

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Hernandez’s partner’s video also captures audio of the man cursing at the officers and appearing to be combative as they approach.

In the video taken from Hernandez’s partner, the officer can be seen punching the man at least a dozen times. The man does not attempt to fight back and appears to have his hands covering his head the whole time. After Hernandez stops punching the man, he can be heard asking his partner to use her stun gun.

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Hernandez’s partner drew the weapon once the incident turned violent, but she never fired it.

As members of the community approach and demand to know what’s going on, the officer warns the man he will get hit again if he doesn’t comply.

“You [expletive] grabbed my hand [expletive], that’s why I hit you,” Hernandez shouts at the man.

The LAPD has not identified either officer, citing state laws that conceal officers’ names from the public in most nonfatal use-of-force incidents.

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The LAPD in 2018 began to make public recordings collected from use-of-force incidents, but Tuesday’s release marked the first time such video was released solely at the discretion of the police chief.

Under rules adopted in March 2018 by the city’s civilian Police Commission, the LAPD is required to release recordings collected as evidence during officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and other serious uses of force that result in a death or serious injury.

Moore, who expressed concern about the officer’s actions when the recording first surfaced last week, said he had already spoken to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey about the clash and expected that preliminary findings would be presented to prosecutors by June 1.

“This incident is deeply disturbing,” he said. “I don’t believe that anything that is shown in this critical incident video will change that description by me or any others.”

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Investigators have interviewed 15 witnesses, including the officers who initiated the stop. Police are still trying to arrange an interview with the man who was beaten.

In recent days, calls for Hernandez to be fired and prosecuted have ramped up across the city. Demonstrators gathered Monday outside the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, claiming the video made public last week was more than enough evidence for Lacey to proceed with assault charges.

“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 Monday. “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.”

In a federal lawsuit filed late Monday, the homeless man in the video was identified as Richard Castillo. According to the filing, Castillo has lived in Boyle Heights most of his life and has family in the immediate area.

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“He was raised about two houses down from that vacant lot. He has a tremendous support system around him in that neighborhood,” said attorney Wesley Ouchi, who described Castillo as “well-liked and well-known” in the area.

Times staff writers Kevin Rector and Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.


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