LAPD officer takes issue with videotaped beating of homeless man

A Los Angeles police officer who was filmed repeatedly punching a homeless man in Boyle Heights two years ago did not contest the assault on Thursday, authorities said.

Frank Hernandez, 51, will not serve time in prison for the crime. He was sentenced to two years probation, 80 hours of community service and one year of anger management lessons under a plea deal announced at a hearing in a center courtroom -City of Los Angeles.

Officers were responding to an intrusion call on Houston Street in April 2020 and met with Richard Castillo. They ordered the homeless man, who was a familiar figure in the neighborhood, to leave undeveloped land near a church, according to a statement released by the LAPD at the time.

Video of the incident recorded by a spectator shows Hernandez and his partner confronting Castillo against the chain-link fence of the pitch. When one of the officers orders the man to turn back, Hernandez suddenly tells Castillo to “stop fighting.”

Seconds later, Hernandez unleashes a flurry of punches to the back of Castillo’s head while shouting profanity. When Castillo tried to take a few steps away from the officer, Hernandez followed him and continued the assault. Hernandez’s partner stands by, occasionally reaching out but otherwise not intervening.

The footage immediately sparked outrage in Boyle Heights and among other Latino communities in the city. Some residents recognized Hernandez for his role in several shootings.

In one such case, Hernandez killed a Guatemalan in 2010, sparking days of protests and rebukes from Guatemalan politicians, who said the man killed spoke only the indigenous K’iche’ language and couldn’t understand Hernandez’s orders. In 2008, while Hernandez was pursuing a suspect, the officer ended up shooting and wounding an uninvolved 18-year-old.

Hernandez initially pleaded not guilty to Castillo’s attack, and the officer told a Times reporter that he “feared imminent danger and acted appropriately.”

Attempts to contact his lawyer on Thursday were not immediately successful. He “split” from the LAPD in May 2021, according to a department spokesperson.

At a preliminary hearing in December 2020, Hernandez’s partner testified against him, according to a transcript of the hearing. Det. Kim Hanna said she had no idea why her partner was hitting Castillo and that the victim did nothing to provoke him, according to the transcript.

Hanna said she tried to stop Hernandez but couldn’t, because of her “wild swings.” Castillo was not seriously injured in the clash and refused to receive medical treatment.

“Although the victim suffered no serious injury, it was not for lack of trying on the part of the defendant,” the LA County Assistant District said. Atti. said Christopher Baker during the preliminary hearing.

Castillo filed a federal lawsuit against the department in 2020, but he was fatally shot in El Sereno in September 2021, a week before he was filed in the lawsuit, according to his attorney, Wesley Ouchi.

Castillo’s family said they had not received information about an arrest or the motive for the murder. An LAPD spokesperson said detectives were “following current leads,” but offered no further details about the murder.

Castillo died of a gunshot wound to the leg, according to medical records provided to The Times by Ouchi, who called Hernandez’s plea a “bittersweet victory” for the Castillo family.

“Any civilian, in the same position as Officer Hernandez, would have received an offer of imprisonment from the district attorney’s office,” Ouchi said in an email to The Times. “However, the historic felony charges against Officer Hernandez demonstrate a level of progress in our society that would have been totally unheard of just a few years ago.”

Castillo’s uncle, Raymundo Ferreira, said the 30-something grew up in Boyle Heights and was well known to shop owners and neighbors, often cycling in the area. Ferreira said his nephew hid the fact that he was homeless from relatives, telling them he was staying with friends when he was actually sleeping in a tent in the field where Hernandez confronted him.

After the assault, Castillo moved in with Ferreira and began working at his outlet store in Boyle Heights, Ferreira said. But when LAPD officers repeatedly stopped by the store asking for Castillo in the months after the assault, he began to miss work.

“He would come here and he would help me…but the thing was, he always told me that I didn’t want to cause you any problems,” Ferreira said. “So he stopped coming.”

An LAPD spokesperson said the visits were part of the Internal Affairs investigation into Hernandez’s conduct.

“All this time he was on the street, nothing happened to him,” Ferreira said, her eyes full of tears outside her store. “Now that I got him to change his life, starting a little, step by step, it happened.”

Luz W. German