Neighbors say Fullerton police should be held accountable for shooting
Bill Brown could only watch as his friend was shot to death by a Fullerton police officer in his front yard.
Powerless at the time, now Brown, neighbors and friends are working to hold the Fullerton Police Department and Officer Jonathan Ferrell accountable for the death of Hector Hernandez.
The group has held protests and attended City Council meetings to get the attention of city leaders.
“He literally executed him,” Brown said.
The incident occurred on May 27 on West Avenue.
According to a video posted online by Fullerton police, one of Hernandez’s sons called the police to report his stepfather for being drunk, hitting his brother and brandishing a knife. The boy also reported that Hernandez had armed himself with a gun and fired the weapon. The video includes a recording of the 911 call.
After police arrive on scene, body-worn camera footage of the shooting in the police video shows Ferrell approaching Hernandez’s home with his K-9 unit. Officers have their guns drawn.
As he gets up to the home, Ferrell directs the dog toward Hernandez, who is standing in his front yard with his hands up. The dog disobeys at first and runs toward other officers.
As the K-9 turns and rushes toward Hernandez to take him down, Hernandez puts one of his arms down and takes a knife from his pocket. After the dog takes him down, he stabs the dog near the shoulder blade.
Ferrell runs up to Hernandez, yells “He’s got a knife!” and fires two shots at him.
Ferrell pulls the dog from Hernandez while it tears away at his shirt.
Brown and others contend that the dog should never have been directed toward Hernandez. Brown said the dog didn’t even perceive Hernandez as a threat at first, as evidenced by it initially walking over to officers.
Brown said Hernandez had his hands raised and only lowered his hand to his knife when the dog rushed him. Then, Ferrell fired at Hernandez while he was on his back.
“The K-9 officer got concerned about his dog,” Brown said. “The K-9 officer wasn’t being threatened at all. Nobody in the front yard was threatened, other than the dog, because the dog was attacking him.”
Brown continued: “I mean he just got totally reckless because it was like he just got tunnel vision. He focused on, ‘Oh my God he’s hurting my dog, I’m gonna stop him now ...’ That’s exactly what it seems like happened — he lost all control of his training and reasonable thinking and just decided, I need to do this.”
Garo Mardirossian, the attorney who represented Kelly Thomas’ family after he was beaten to death by Fullerton officers in 2011, is representing Hernandez’s family in a lawsuit against the city.
Mardirossian said Thursday that Ferrell used excessive force when no force was necessary because Hernandez was complying with every order the officers gave him.
“This K-9 officer for no good reason releases his dog,” Mardirossian said. “The dog is smart enough to see that there is no danger and starts running towards his K-9 unit. He’s thinking ‘OK, time to go.’ This man’s got his hands up, he’s no threat.
“Then you see the officers yelling, trying to get [the dog] back and redirected, and to heal and then to attack. Why, why are you taking a man with his hands up?”
He continued: “Neither one of those shots were necessary. Nobody was being threatened.”
Fullerton police spokesman Billy Phu said the incident is being reviewed by the department’s Internal Affairs Unit.
Phu said Ferrell is still employed with the department and is serving in the field.
When asked whether Ferrell had been suspended, Phu responded: “Once the investigations are complete, any responsive information will be released in accordance to Senate Bill 1421 and the Public Records Act.”
Brown and others showed up to a Fullerton City Council meeting on Tuesday night to provide public comments.
They came with signs and spoke about the need for accountability.
“I think that it is important to to address the immediate concern and that is the officer involved needs to be immediately off the streets, off the payroll, out of any ability to harm people in the future,” said Jeff LeTorneau, who spoke at the meeting. “He was upset about the stabbing of a dog, a dog which probably should never have been used on a person with an agitated emotional state, and that in turn led to the wholesale assassination and murder in plain view of a father of two kids.
“And that just can’t stand. So I’m going to leave you with this urgent call for the beginning of an earnest effort to set up a city civilian police review commission with full subpoena powers ...”
Kelly Williams said she witnessed the shooting of Hernandez.
“Fullerton Police Department policy calls for deescalation techniques to be used when appropriate,” Williams said at the meeting. “Officers received training every two years as mandated by post. This did not take place that night of May 27. Exhaust all our alternatives before shooting. Officers should evaluate the use of other reasonably available resources and techniques when determining whether to use deadly force. Hector’s life matters, and now his two sons do not have a father.”
The Democratic Party of Orange County has also been showing support for the effort to hold the Fullerton Police Department accountable for Hernandez’s death.
The group sent an email to all members this week encouraging them to submit public comments to the Fullerton council meeting to support “Justice for Hector” and police accountability.
Mike Rodriguez, a committee member of the Democratic Party of O.C., submitted a public comment to be read aloud.
“What happened to Hector Hernandez on May 27 was a travesty, and now he has two young sons who are left to fend for themselves without their father,” Rodriguez wrote, also adding support for the formation of a civilian oversight committee.
Rodriguez’s comment and a few others in support of Hernandez were not read aloud at the council meeting. City Clerk Lucinda Williams said staff inadvertently attached an incorrect cover sheet to the agenda.
Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said the office is still investigating the incident.
“These investigations can be very complex and can take several months for toxicology and other necessary tests to be completed and reviewed,” Edds said in a statement. “At District Attorney Spitzer’s insistence, separate biological specimens are preserved for independent testing by the family. Once the investigation and legal review is completed, it is ultimately reviewed by the elected District Attorney Todd Spitzer who then makes the final decision.”
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