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LA police officer charged with repeatedly punching homeless man

An image taken from body camera footage shows Frank Hernandez, 49, allegedly punching a suspect more than a dozen times. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Police Department/YouTube
An image taken from body camera footage shows Frank Hernandez, 49, allegedly punching a suspect more than a dozen times. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Police Department/YouTube

June 10 (UPI) -- Prosecutors in California said they have charged a Los Angeles police officer for punching an unarmed man more than a dozen times.

Frank Hernandez, 49, has been charged with one felony count of assault and was scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.

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"This is a disturbing case of the illegal use of force at the hands of a police officer," Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement on Tuesday. "In this case, we believe the force was neither legally necessary nor reasonable."

The charge came more than a month after the alleged assault occurred on April 27 when Hernandez and his partner responded to a call of a trespasser in a vacant lot in Boyle Heights near downtown Los Angeles.

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According to the District Attorney's Office, Hernandez is accused of punching the unnamed trespassing suspect in the head, neck and body during an encounter that was recorded by a bystander and shared on social media.

The footage led to a use-of-force investigation and the LAPD released body camera footage of the encounter in early May. According to the District Attorney's Office statement, investigators presented Lacey with their findings on June 2 for filing consideration.

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"The department has taken this matter very seriously from day one and he will be held accountable for his actions," LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in a statement Tuesday.

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The LAPD said it will continue to assist the district attorney's investigation. Hernandez has been stripped of all police powers and has been assigned home.

The Los Angeles Police Protective Union, which Hernandez is a member, issued a statement late Tuesday, stating while it has a fiduciary responsibility to its members, "what we saw on that video was unacceptable and is not what we are trained to do."

Richard Castillo, who is homeless, filed a lawsuit against the city and the police force last month after the body camera footage was released over the encounter, accusing one officer of using closed fists to strike him while a second officer "failed to intervene."

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If convicted, Hernandez faces a maximum sentence of three years in county jail.

The charges came during widespread unrest and protests in the United States calling for police reforms after another black man was killed in police custody.

George Floyd, 46, was killed late last month while being arrested by a white police officer who pinned him to the ground with a knee to the back of his neck for more than eight minutes.

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Lacey, who is black, has been criticized by activists during her tenure for not doing enough to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

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