Friends and family of Hector Hernandez, a Fullerton resident who was shot and killed by a Fullerton police officer in front of his home on May 27, gathered in front of the Fullerton Police Station on Saturday, December 5 to protest his killing, stating that his death was the result of excessive force, that the officer involved should be fired, and that the police department should release all body camera footage from the incident. Family and friends had held a previous protest on November 14.
On May 27, police responded to a call reporting that Hernandez had fired a gun in his house following an altercation between himself and members of his household after he returned intoxicated to his home in west Fullerton after an evening out with his girlfriend. Confronted by police in front of his house, Hernandez complied with orders to raise his empty hands, but drew a work knife from his pocket and stabbed a police dog loosed upon him by an FPD officer, who then immediately shot Hernandez multiple times. Hernandez died at the scene. Rotar, the police dog, was treated for a non-life-threatening wound, and ceremonially retired from service during a Fullerton City Council meeting in the weeks following the shooting.
The Fullerton Police Department released a Critical Incident Briefing video in late June following a standard format instituted by the department’s Chief Robert Dunn, wherein selected officer body cam footage is compiled to form a narrative interspersed with explanatory comments by Chief Dunn and other high ranking police command officers. Garo Mardirossian, who represents the family of the deceased Hernandez, is demanding all body cam video from all officers present at the scene, not just the footage from the Critical Incident Briefing and the additional video already released by the department. California state law requires that bodycam footage from officer involved shootings be made public no less than 45 days following incidents.
When asked if he plans on releasing all of the officers’ body cam footage, Fullerton Police Chief Dunn told The Observer, “As per Assembly Bill 748, we have released Body Worn Camera footage and its attached audio that is relevant to this incident.”
This does not include all of the body cam footage.
When asked if he believes the officer involved acted appropriately, Dunn said, “As per our policy and protocol, this officer-involved shooting is pending an independent investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The officer’s actions, as it relates to policy, are also being reviewed by our Internal Affairs Unit. We withhold judgement and do not draw any conclusions until all facts are known and the investigations are complete.”
Ashley Chadwick, the mother of one of Hernandez’s sons, brought the wrongful death suit against the department and the officer involved on behalf of the boys.
“I don’t see how [Hector] was that much of a threat to him, being on his back with the dog attached to him,” Chadwick said. “They didn’t de-escalate the situation, that’s for sure.”
“The officer involved should be removed from active duty and fired,” Chadwick said. “Communication from the department, including Police Chief Bob Dunn, has been lacking.” Others at the protest agreed.
“I’ve left messages for the Chief, but I haven’t really got any feedback,” Chadwick said.
According to Chief Dunn, after the incident, the involved officer was placed on temporary administrative leave per department protocol. Thereafter, he was released back to his assignment in patrol.
Dunn said that he did reach out to the family and offered an “opportunity to watch the Community Critical Incident Brief video with me prior to public release. In this case, my offer to the family was declined.”
“Hector was my neighbor and also a son-in-law,” Donna Chadwick, who was at the protest, said. “I’m out here because we need justice for Hector. He should not have been shot in his own front yard with his hands up. And now I have two grandsons who have no dad.”
Bill Brown, who organized the protest, was Hernandez’s neighbor and friend. He expressed disappointment that Chief Dunn and the department has not released all of the body cam footage.
“The officer runs up to a guy who’s being chewed on by a dog and decides to shoot two rounds into him. Isn’t that excessive?” Brown said.
Brown said he has been in communication with the District Attorney’s office, who is investigating the incident. So far, no charges have been brought against the officer involved.
“I have police officers in my family, so by no means am I anti-police,” Brown said. “But this officer went out of control and killed a person who shouldn’t be dead now.”
Kelly Williams, Hernandez’s neighbor who was present on the night of the incident, was at the protest.
“They [the FPD] did not de-escalate the situation, whatsoever. They just came in very hot,” Williams said. “They just came in and didn’t even give him a chance to follow other commands, they didn’t use non-lethal weapons like a taser to get him to the ground instead of releasing the dog.”
Williams said she believes the officer who shot Hernandez should not be on active duty.
When asked what he thinks needs to be done to ensure transparency and public trust in FPD following this situation, and others like it, Chief Dunn told The Observer via e-mail: “The Fullerton Police Department has gone to great lengths to ensure transparency to gain the trust of the community we serve. We were the first agency in Orange County to produce Community Critical Incident Briefing videos. Continuing with our transparency protocol with this incident, we released relevant Body Worn Camera footage, dispatch recordings and photos. We also issued a Press Release as well as maintained correspondence with media outlets, such as the Fullerton Observer, to answer any questions we can without compromising the integrity of the investigation and infringing upon any privacy laws.”
Also present at the December 5 protest were the mothers of other young men who have been killed by police in Orange County. They are still seeking justice and transparency for their slain children.
Tiffany Tabares’ son Dillan was shot seven times and killed by a Huntington Beach police officer in 2017.
Tabares’ lawsuit against the Huntington Beach Police department is currently on appeal.
“I want them to just look at this and go, ‘That was a mistake. Let’s not do it that way again. Let’s fix the situation,’” Tabares said.
Also present at the protest was Deanna Sullivan, whose son David Sullivan was shot and killed by a Buena Park police officer in 2019.
“They [Buena Park PD] didn’t try to de-escalate the situation. They did not try to use less than lethal force,” Sullivan said. “They are supposed to be public servants, serving and protecting us, even a 19-year old boy in crisis. So, I want to see accountability.”
Sullivan said that accountability is lacking for officer-involved shootings, and that “qualified immunity” for police officers is not a good policy. We need to hold them accountable, and nobody’s holding them accountable,” she said.
Christian Contreras, a lawyer representing Sullivan, has brought a civil rights lawsuit against the Buena Park Police Department. Contreras’ law firm is a part of Justice X, a group of lawyers who provide legal services to those arrested or charged for demonstrating against police violence.
Sullivan is a native of Orange County who now lives in Los Angeles. She said that she has connected with many families, whose members have been victims of police violence, in order to demand justice and accountability. She learned about the December 5 protest from Theresa Smith of the Law Enforcement Accountability Network (LEAN). Smith’s son Caesar Cruz was killed by an Anaheim police officer in 2009.
“There are so many families, and we come together for protests,” Sullivan said. “Black Lives Matter really gave a lot of the families a platform to come out and speak, to be strong, to be supported, and to show that it’s okay to come out and tell your story. There’s strength in the truth.”
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