LAPD officer pleads no contest in videotaped beating of homeless man

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A Los Angeles police officer who was caught on video repeatedly punching a homeless man in Boyle Heights two years ago pleaded no contest to assault Thursday, authorities said.

Frank Hernandez, 51, will not serve time in prison for the crime. He was sentenced to two years of probation, 80 hours of community service and a year of anger management classes under the terms of a plea agreement announced during a hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

Officers were responding to a trespassing call on Houston Street in April 2020 and encountered Richard Castillo. They instructed the unhoused man, who was a familiar figure in the neighborhood, to leave an undeveloped lot near a church, according to a statement issued by LAPD at the time.

A video of the incident recorded by a bystander shows Hernandez and his partner confronting Castillo against the lot’s chain-link fence. When one of the officers instructs the man to turn around, Hernandez suddenly tells Castillo to “stop fighting.”

Seconds later, Hernandez unleashes a flurry of punches to the back of Castillo’s head while shouting profanities. When Castillo attempted to take a few steps away from the officer, Hernandez followed him and continued the assault. Hernandez’s partner stands by, occasionally reaching her hand 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 from his role in several shootings.

In one of those cases, Hernandez killed a Guatemalan man in 2010, sparking days of protests and rebukes from Guatemalan politicians, who said the slain man spoke only the Indigenous language K’iche’ and could not understand Hernandez’s commands. In 2008, when Hernandez was chasing a suspect, the officer ended up shooting and wounding an uninvolved 18-year-old.

Hernandez initially pleaded not guilty in the attack on Castillo, and the officer told a Times reporter that he was “in fear of imminent danger and acted appropriately.”

Attempts to contact his attorney Thursday were not immediately successful. He “separated” 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 striking Castillo and that the victim had done nothing to provoke him, according to the transcript.

Hanna said she tried to stop Hernandez but could not, because of his “wild swings.” Castillo was not seriously injured during the clash and refused medical attention.

“Although the victim didn’t suffer any serious injuries, it is not for lack of trying on the part of the defendant,” L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Baker said during the preliminary hearing.

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

Castillo’s family said they have not received information about an arrest or motive in the killing. An LAPD spokesperson said detectives were “following current leads,” but provided no other details about the slaying.

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 a jail offer 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 utterly unheard of just a few years ago.”

Castillo’s uncle Raymundo Ferreira said the 30-year-old grew up in Boyle Heights and was well known to store owners and neighbors, often riding his bike through the area. Ferreira said his nephew hid the fact that he had been homeless from relatives, telling them he was staying with friends when he was actually sleeping in a tent in the lot where Hernandez confronted him.

After the assault, Castillo moved in with Ferreira and started working in his Boyle Heights outlet store, Ferreira said. But when LAPD officers repeatedly came by the store asking for Castillo in the months following the assault, he began missing work.

“He would come in here and he would help me … but the thing was he’d always tell me I don’t want to create problems for you,” Ferreira said. “So he stopped coming.”

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

“All this time he was in the streets, nothing happened to him,” Ferreira said, eyes welling up with tears outside his store. “Now that I got him to change his life, to start a little, step by step, this happened.”

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