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Coalition Protests Fullerton Police Killing of Hector Hernandez

Over 30 supporters of Fullerton resident Hector Hernandez who was shot and killed by Fullerton police last May, held a protest on Tuesday, March 16 to demand justice for what they say was an unwarranted killing. It is the latest of several protests by friends, family, neighbors, and others who insist that Hernandez was complying with police demands and should not have been killed. Police had been called following a reported altercation at the Hernandez home on the evening of May 27. Hector Hernandez, 34, had fired a gun inside the home on the 3600 block of West Ave. during what was reported as a domestic violence call. However, he was not armed with the gun when he tried to surrender to Fullerton Police. As officers ordered him to the ground in front of his house, they also released a police dog, who Hernandez stabbed with a work knife he retrieved from a pocket as the dog pulled him down. Corporal Jonathan Ferrell, the dog’s K9 handler, immediately shot Hernandez twice, killing him.

Kelly Jade Williams (center left) stands with fellow protestors in front of Fullerton City Hall calling for justice for Hector Hernandez. Photo by Grace Widyatmadja.

Neighbor Bill Brown, who lives four houses away from the Hernandez home and witnessed the shooting, faulted the Fullerton Police Department not only for what he considered unnecessarily heavy-handed tactics, but also for the department’s behavior following the incident. “So many lies, one after the other,” he said to the crowd through a megaphone at this protest.

The protest is the latest of several, beginning in July 2020, but Fullerton supporters were joined this time by representatives from other civil rights and police reform groups, including Jennifer Rojas of the American Civil Liberties Union Southern California. The coalition claims endorsement by 21 different advocacy groups, including four from Cal State Fullerton.

Protestors gather in front of Fullerton City Hall before the March 16 Fullerton City Council meeting to call for justice for Hector Hernandez. Hernandez was shot and killed in May 2020 in front of his home by a Fullerton Police Officer. Photo by Grace Widyatmadja.

The ACLU co-sponsored AB392, a State bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 that restricts police use of deadly force to situations where there is no other alternative, and only when there is a threat of imminent harm. She said that the ACLU does not believe Hernandez should have been killed. “We believe that if Fullerton had a strong Use of Force policy, Hector Hernandez would be alive today,” she said. Fullerton’s Use of Force Policy was updated on October 28, 2020 to reflect the State legislation, citing a determination by Lexipol, with whom the city of Fullerton contracts.

Rojas also decried the influence of the private firm Lexipol over police departments and city governments. Lexipol is an Irvine-based consultant used to formulate public policy for Fullerton and other municipalities and public safety organizations across the country. Lexipol lobbied against the passage of AB392, she said, saying that the firm was founded by attorneys who represent police officers accused of excessive force. According to Lexipol’s website, “Many community members assume the federal or state government creates policy for law enforcement agencies; in fact, agencies are left on their own to interpret legislation and case law, write policies, and keep up with changing laws, regulations, and court decisions. Nearly half of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. employ 10 or fewer full-time officers…Policy development and maintenance is simply not something most agencies have resources to do effectively.” The Fullerton Police Department employs over 125 sworn police officers as well as other non-sworn personnel. (A current blog entry entitled “K9 Deployment and Bite Duration Were Proper” on Lexipol’s website highlights a court decision confirming as proper the use of a police dog in arresting a drunk driving suspect—also named Hernandez— in Gilbert, AZ.)

On the day of the protest, Carolina Mendez, President of the CSUF College Progressives, published an editorial on the Voice of OC website calling for Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer to prosecute Cpl. Ferrell for killing Hector Hernandez.

Protestors march across Highland Avenue from the Fullerton Police station to Fullerton City Hall chanting “No justice, no peace. No racist police” and “Justice for Hector.” Photo by Grace Widyatmadja.

The gathered crowd chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” with CSUF student Ileana Lugo, who then led them on a short march to Fullerton Police Headquarters across Highland Ave. to the east, and then back to City Hall entrance.

Upon their return, Lugo accused police of “using funding we pay for to murder, brutalize, and incarcerate us.” “We have stood by and waited for police departments to figure this out,” she said. “But now it is “time to question the effectiveness of policing.”

A Facebook group, Justice for Hector Hernandez, has 155 members.

Other speakers suggested alternatives to policing. “We can create alternate crisis teams. Who can protect our community better than ourselves?” Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente, a community organizer with Chicanos Unidos said.

Another speaker Pablo Gomez said, “There’s no recourse for these officers, so they’re not afraid to pull the trigger.”

Mike Rodriguez speaks to protestors gathered in front of Fullerton City Hall before the March 16 Fullerton City Council meeting to call for justice for Hector Hernandez. Photo by Grace Widyatmadja.

Local activist Mike Rodriguez said the groups had sent letters to members of the Fullerton City Council with four immediate demands: 1) Fire Cpl. Ferrell, the officer who shot Hernandez, 2) release all unedited footage from the body-worn cameras of all officers on the scene, 3) end the City’s contract with Lexipol and, 4) set up a task force to examine FPD’s budget by the end of April. Rodriguez also called for “an empowered” commission to oversee the Fullerton Police Department. Local activists formulated a plan for such a commission in the wake of the Kelly Thomas death, but were rebuffed by a majority of the City Council at the time.

Hernandez’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City, but the suit has been staid by the court pending the end of investigations of the incident. The family is represented by the law firm of Garo Mardirossian and Associates, who also represented Ron Thomas, the father of Kelly Thomas, in a civil suit against the City. The killing of Kelly Thomas by Fullerton police ten years ago brought international attention to the City’s police force and its tactics, resulting in the resignation of Chief Michael Sellers and a multi-million dollar settlement with Thomas’s family.

In prior interviews with The Observer, Mardirossain has complained that the Orange County coroner will not release their autopsy report of Hector Hernandez because the Orange County District Attorney is still investigating the case. Days after the March 16 protest, OC D.A. Todd Spitzer would not comment to The Observer on the investigation itself but confirmed that it is ongoing saying that such investigations generally take “up to a year” to complete. Sptizer also said that it is the department’s policy to preserve samples of tissue, blood, and other bodily fluids for families of the deceased who indicate they would like to have their own independent autopsies performed. He invited lawyers representing Hernandez’s family to call him directly at his office.

Fullerton police maintain that they have released all relevant body camera video and audio from the scene in the form of a Critical Incident Community video narrated by FPD Chief Robert Dunn and Lt. Jon Radus. Activists and Maridrossian argue that State law requires FPD to release all unedited video and audio from the body cameras of all officers on the scene, not just that found in the video released by FPD. SB1421, “The Right to Know Act,” took effect on January 1, 2019. This law requires the release of police records—including audio and video—related to incidents where an officer has fired a gun, committed a sexual assault, or has engaged in dishonest investigation.

Theresa Smith, whose son Caesar Ray Cruz was shot and killed by Anaheim police in 2011, said she had been fighting for 11 years for police accountability. “It really makes me mad that we are still doing this.” She spoke about children being teased at school because their fathers had been killed by police. “I’m tired. I just want to stay home,” she said. “But when I hear about it, I can’t go home.”