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LAPD officer shown in video striking homeless man defends actions, pleads not guilty

LAPD Officer Frank Hernandez pleaded not guilty to assault charges
LAPD Officer Frank Hernandez pleaded not guilty to assault charges Thursday after a video showed him repeatedly punching an unarmed homeless man in Boyle Heights on April 27. He is due back in court in July.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles police officer accused of assault in the beating of a homeless man caught on video in Boyle Heights earlier this year defended his tactics in court Thursday, saying he “acted appropriately.”

Frank Hernandez, 49, who was charged with assault under color of authority this week, pleaded not guilty during a brief hearing downtown. The veteran LAPD officer was caught on video repeatedly punching an unarmed homeless man in the head and body after responding to a trespassing call in the 2400 block of Houston Street on April 27.

The cellphone video appeared to show the man, identified as Richard Castillo, retreating from Hernandez and trying to shield himself as the officer throws more than a dozen punches.

Wearing a beige suit and a black face mask, Hernandez remained silent for most of his hearing Thursday morning while his attorney entered a not guilty plea for him.

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“No comment, but I was in fear of imminent danger and acted appropriately,” Hernandez said outside the courtroom when asked about his actions.

His attorney, Nicole Castronovo, declined to comment further and pulled Hernandez away from a reporter.

An attorney for Castillo called the prosecution of Hernandez a “turning point” in holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.

The decision to prosecute Hernandez “is a tremendous first step in demonstrating to the public that our government officials, at all levels, are no longer willing to tolerate or accept misconduct committed by members of our law enforcement,” said Wesley Ouchi, who filed a federal lawsuit against the city earlier this year in connection with the video.

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Hernandez was arrested and charged Tuesday. He remains free on his own recognizance. L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Baker said he would not be seeking bail due to the emergency order allowing defendants to be released without bail for a wide array of criminal charges during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hernandez is due back in court in July. His actions have been widely condemned by law enforcement officials. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he was concerned by the cellphone video and the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers said in a statement that Hernandez’s behavior was “unacceptable and is not what we are trained to do.”


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