LAPD officer charged with assault in videotaped beating of homeless man

James Queally
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey has filed assault charges against an LAPD officer.  (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles police officer has been charged with assault in connection with a video that shows him repeatedly punching an unarmed homeless man in Boyle Heights, authorities said Tuesday.

Frank Hernandez, who has been with the LAPD for more than 20 years, was charged with one count of assault under color of authority in connection with the April 27 incident.

“This is a disturbing case of the illegal use of force at the hands of a police officer,” Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey said in a statement. “In this case, we believe the force was neither legally necessary nor reasonable.”

Hernandez and his partner were responding to a trespassing call in the 2400 block of Houston Street when they confronted a homeless man who had set up a tent in a lot adjacent to a local church. Cell phone video of the incident shows the officer throwing more than a dozen punches at the man's head and body. The man does not appear to be armed or resisting, at one point stumbling away from Hernandez.

Although the incident did not meet the standards requiring the LAPD to release video, Chief Michel Moore ordered body-worn camera footage from the scene to be released in mid-May after the cellphone video surfaced and sparked outrage.

Hernandez was arrested Tuesday afternoon and released on his own recognizance in less than an hour, according to booking records. He is scheduled to appear in a downtown courtroom Thursday, prosecutors said.

The victim, described by attorneys and activists as an area homeless man who was known in the neighborhood, suffered abrasions but did not require hospitalization. Hernandez was assigned to home once the video became public. Moore called the incident disturbing.

Hernandez has been involved in three on-duty shootings over the course of his career, including the 2010 killing of a Guatemalan day laborer, which sparked days of violent protests in the Westlake area.

A call to Hernandez's attorney seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Carlos Montes, a member and organizer with Centro CSO: Community Service Organization in Boyle Heights, said, “I’m glad that he’s charged, but I hope that he’s found guilty, though. I’m always a little leery of the trial process.”