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It’s been 10 months since Fullerton police shot and killed Hector Hernandez, a father and resident on the west end of town, in his own yard while he was lying on the ground.
Residents and family members have questioned the police department’s tactics the night of the shooting.
The police department, on the other hand, says Hernandez posed a serious threat to his family — children among them — when police responded to a 9-1-1 call by his 15-year-old step-son on May 27, who said Hernandez had been drinking and threatened family members with a knife and fired off a gun inside the house.
Hernandez initially complied with officers’ commands outside his home when they arrived on scene, but then started pacing, police say. Then a police dog brought Hernandez to the ground and Hernandez, in turn, stabbed it with a pocket knife.
The dog’s handling officer shot multiple rounds into Hernandez while he was still on the ground. Hernandez later died at a hospital.
Those who question whether Hernandez deserved to die that night say they still want answers, most recently at a protest outside City Hall on Tuesday evening that saw attendees from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), local community groups and student activist organizations from Cal State Fullerton.
“To us, you know, it’s kinda clear, cut-and-dry that what” the officer who shot Hernandez “did was absolutely not necessary,” said Bill Brown, a Fullerton resident and friend of Hernandez’s. “We just want to keep the pressure on it. It’s a critical time.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office is currently investigating the shooting.
In the meantime, the officer who shot Hernandez remains an employee of the department, said Cpl. Billy Phu, who is the department’s spokesperson.
“We’re awaiting the conclusion of the District Attorney’s independent investigation into the case,” Phu said when asked for comment about the latest protests over Hernandez’s killing.
Hernandez’s family, meanwhile, has enlisted the legal services of Garo Mardirossian, the civil rights attorney known for representing the family of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who was beaten to death by Fullerton police in 2011.
Thomas’ death got national attention and resulted in the recall of three sitting council members at the time over their handling of the incident and its fallout.
It also fueled a national debate over police brutality and the extent to which a death at the hands of police can be justifiable.
Part of Hernandez’s family’s legal effort seeks to obtain more records of the shooting. Police officials, in turn, have said they released all the records they can while the District Attorney investigation is ongoing.
Body-worn camera footage of the incident was later uploaded to YouTube by the department.
The department in a statement following the incident explained the officer’s decision to release his dog, saying the officer feared for the children inside the house and didn’t want to let Hernandez, “who had committed multiple violent felonies at that point, an opportunity to … continue his assault on his family or barricade himself with vulnerable family members inside.”
In a previous Voice of OC story on Hernandez’s death, those close to the family said that Hernandez, despite his behavior, didn’t deserve to die that way.
“It’s this time to put on the pressure and make District Attorney Todd Spitzer realize that what we’ve seen wasn’t right,” said Brown on Monday. “There’s no way they can look at this and say that was necessary.”