Who exactly is Los Angeles Police Department Officer Frank Hernandez? Before he killed 37-year-old Guatemalan immigrant Manuel Jamines last Sunday, Hernandez was just another LAPD officer, a 13-year vet, one of the department's 10,000 police officers. In just over a week, he's assumed a very public notoriety, and it turns out he's got quite a history.
In the Guatemalan community of Westlake where Jamines was killed, Hernandez is well-known as a bully. The AP reports:
For many in the poor immigrant community, the shooting of Jaminez was the last straw. Amid the poverty and chronic joblessness here, some residents say, officers mistreated them and were overly harsh in their enforcement of city ordinances.*
"They are messing with people all the time," said Juan Lorenzo, a day laborer who knew Jaminez.
Lorenzo claimed that Officer Frank Hernandez, who the mayor hailed as a hero for shooting Jaminez, was disliked by many in the community because he would often ticket people for selling food on the street and would sometimes throw the food in the trash.
Hernandez is also being sued by a 19-year-old man named Joseph Wolf. Wolf claims that Hernandez used excessive deadly force when Hernandez shot him in the thigh on Dec. 12, 2008, and then later lied to justify the shooting.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Wolf was roused from bed by the sound of helicopters flying overhead, and went to his front door to investigate. When Wolf went back inside because it was cold out, Hernandez, who was in the area investigating a separate incident, ran after him into his house and shot him because, the LAPD would later say, Wolf had a weapon. Turns out Wolf did have a BB gun in his house, but it didn't have his DNA on it. Wolf was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Those charges were dropped in 2009.
The Los Angeles Police Commission said Hernandez was out of line that night, even though the shooting was technically "in policy." Wolf's lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court.
Hernandez's past raises the uncomfortable question of how many cops with shootings on their record are sent back onto the streets without reprimand, re-training, or any kind of public notice. It's likely a higher number than most of us will ever know.
Earlier this year, in an ongoing investigation, ColorLines' Ali Winston found that in Fresno, Calif., plenty of cops were sent back to work after killing civilians:
A California Public Records Act Request uncovered a previously withheld list of 27 Fresno police officers involved in repeat shootings of civilians from 2002 through 2009, 25 of whom, according to an official with the Fresno Police Department, are still on active duty today. Of these 27 officers, four were involved in at least three separate shooting incidents over the same period. One officer, Michael Palomino, was involved in four shooting incidents. In the context of a statewide investigation focusing in on four major police departments, the Fresno Police Department stands out in scale.
Since last Sunday, hundreds have protested and dozens were arrested.
The LAPD maintains that Jamines was holding a bloody knife and was shot when he lifted it up overhead and lunged at police officers. Hernandez shot Jamines twice in the head, and he died on the scene. Jamines' family said that even though the day laborer and father of three was a heavy drinker, he was never violent.
At a public meeting LAPD Chief Charlie Beck hosted with the Guatemalan Consul General Pablo Garcia last Wednesday, hundreds streamed into a local middle school for a community forum. The crowd heckled and booed Beck and called Jamines' killing an assassination. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has promised a thorough and impartial investigation, but hailed Hernandez as a "hero."
*AP offers this note on the spelling of Jimenes' name: "Neighbors and friends initially said Jaminez's last name was spelled Jamines but on Thursday the coroner's office said he went by the names Manuel Ramirez and Manuel Jaminez."