Did Fullerton Censor Public Comments about the FPD Killing of Hector Hernandez?


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Three pictures of Hector Hernandez (1985-2020) over the years.

Maybe, maybe not exactly.  This story is about TWO things – the Fullerton Police killing of Hector Hernandez last May, and – first –  a confusion of different systems of public commenting in different cities during the pandemic, rooted in deceptive instructions on the cities’ webpages.  Let’s get that latter matter outta the way first.

The Fullerton and Irvine councils are both still meeting live;  Fullerton (but not Irvine) allows the public to attend, social-distanced and masked, and folks can line up to comment.  Beyond that, the two cities allow comments to be sent electronically in two ways, by e-mail (which is the bare minimum that even Anaheim allows) and “E-COMMENT,” a program that has a limit of 500 characters, but the city clerk will read your comment out loud during the meeting if you use that option.

And I’ve heard folks from both towns complain that the clerk picks and chooses which comments to read, and leaves some out when there are too many.  This past Tuesday, a LOT of Fullerton residents complained that they had sent in comments about the murder of Hector Hernandez which were not read out loud by the clerk. So I checked with Fullerton’s very helpful assistant clerk Susana, who says that E-Comments get read aloud by the clerk during the meeting, but e-mailed comments only get read by councilmembers in their free time (we hope) and uploaded onto the city website.  And the folks who didn’t get their comments read Tuesday, it’s because they didn’t utilize the E-Comment option.

But was this their fault, should they have known better?  NO!!  The first page of the agenda, paragraph 4, says:  

“The public can also email comments to cityclerksoffice@cityoffullerton.com with the subject line “PUBLIC COMMENT ITEM #” (insert the item number relevant to your comment) or “PUBLIC COMMENT NON-AGENDA ITEM”. Staff will read aloud comments received by 5:00 p.m. during the applicable agenda item at the meeting, provided that such comments may be read within the normal three minutes allotted to each speaker…”

So the City deceived you-all, purposely or not – the only way to get your comments read out loud is to use E-COMMENT (link here, 500-character limit.)  And Susana is all, “Yeah, we have to fix that on the agenda.”  Apparently this is a consequence of constantly changing meeting platforms AND a changing mayor and council.  But 15 people who e-mailed comments about Hector this Tuesday were deceived into thinking they’d be read out loud, and they weren’t, so I’ll try to make up for that by printing those comments below.

ATTENTION ANAHEIM, IRVINE, AND FULLERTON.  There is no excuse for you not to allow live call-in comments from the public that the public can hear.  Whether you hold your meetings live, Zoom, Webex, or teleconference, you can still do it.  Huntington Beach is doing it.  HUNTINGTON BEACH – the knuckle-dragging beach town that’s gonna have Tito Puente as Mayor next year – THEY figured it out.  So fucking get it together.

Back to Hector Hernandez.

Long story short, on May 27 this 35-year old father of two was shot fatally, twice, by Officer Jonathan Ferrell, while on his back, on his own front lawn, trying to defend himself from a police dog that had been loosed on him for no reason – and the trigger-happy cop must be fired and tried. 

Let’s start with the three citizens who showed up Tuesday to speak about this, as well as Susan Luevano, who did get her comment read by the clerk because she used E-Comment:

And following are the 15 comments that were E-MAILED to Council, under the impression they’d be read out loud.  What they were was uploaded onto the website, in a convoluted way that’s REALLY hard to get to.  (Go here, click on the “supplemental materials” for the particular meeting, download the PDF, click on the link on that PDF, which takes you to a page with a link to each individual e-mail…now that is burying things.)

From Mike Rodriguez:

What happened to Hector Hernandez on May 27th was a travesty, and now he has two young sons who are left to fend for themselves without their father. Officer Jonathan Ferrell sicked his K-9 on a man whose hands were up in his own front yard, then as Hector was on the ground, Ferrell ran up and shot him, execution style. Therefore, neighbors, family, and members of the Fullerton community at large are demanding that you dismiss Officer Ferrell from the Fullerton Police Department so that he can be brought up on murder charges. Many of Hector’s neighbors that witnessed the shooting stated that Officer Ferrell did not have to escalate the situation the way that he did, and that his actions are what led to the shooting. I am also appalled that Officer Ferrell is still on active duty while this investigation is ongoing.

In my opinion, the city council needs to examine a few other issues concerning law enforcement in our city as well. First of all, I know that there is a third-party overseeing cases of police violence such as this one, but I feel that a civilian oversight committee can be more fruitful. Fullerton residents pay the taxes that funds the police department, so Fullerton residents should oversee how money is being spent and evaluate officer performance. Just as many other public agencies have civilian boards and oversight, so should police departments.

Which leads me to my next point. Why does such a huge chunk of the city budget go towards law enforcement in Fullerton? In many cases, first responders may be much more equipped to handle the crises in our communities, such as mental health practitioners, homeless advocates, and therapists who specialize in domestic violence. I understand the difficult situations that officers have to face, but as armed government agents of the law, the police should be the last resort in many crisis situations. We need to find better ways to improve the public health of our communities. Let’s hire more health care workers and invest in more youth programming so that we can take a more preventative approach to crime and emphasize less on discipline and punishment. We don’t need to burden the police with so many non-violent situations. Let’s think smarter about this.

Thank you,
Mike Rodriguez
Fullerton resident

From Reverend Jason Cook: 

I am the Reverend Jason Cook and I am honored to be part of the Fullerton community as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fullerton. I have become aware that the eyes of many are on Fullerton right now to see how our community will respond to the tragic shooting death of Hector Hernandez by Officer Jonathan Ferrell. While I cannot begin to know every detail of what occurred that night, I, like so many, have watched in horror as a man who was on the ground and holding a knife –not a gun –was shot. In an era in which concerned Americans are paying close attention to whether unnecessary force is being used in police encounters, it is essential that Fullerton does the morally right thing in proceeding with this case to the fullest extent toward where the evidence points.

Was the loss of yet another human life absolutely necessary is this situation? Was lethal force the best and only option in these circumstances? With compassion to the officers and citizens involved, I ask simply that justice be done. I am grateful to the officers who protect and serve this community, and I am grateful to all leaders in this community who make sure that everyone –police officer or community leader or parish minister like me –is held to full accountability for our actions when we err. If wrong is done, there must be accountability. Rest in peace, Hector Hernandez.

Best regards,
Rev. Jason Cook
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fullerton.

From Rachie Paredes:

Hello all,

I’m writing this message with the hopes that my voice will not be ignored. My name is Rachel Paredes, I’m a 19 year old Latina living in Fullerton, and I am devastated by the gruesome act of police brutality that occurred at Hector Hernandez’s home in May. He was unnecessarily murdered while on his back with his hands raised, and his murderer, FPD Officer Jonathan Ferrell, continues to work despite his gross act of injustice.

I come to wonder why FPD Officers aren’t trained well enough to do their jobs correctly, and de-escalate situations without using excessive force, yet get nearly 50% of our city budget. I also wonder why the FPD only get TWO DAYS of “crisis intervention training,” and are *supposedly* receiving training on implicit bias. It seems as though their training should be a bit more thorough, no?

My message to the council is simple: hold your PD accountable. My family contributes to this city’s revenues, we pay for the police department to do its job, which means we inevitably pay for them to fuck up. Fix it. Hold Officer Jonathan Ferrell accountable.

And to our Mayor, Mr. Whitaker, I hope that you are taking COVID-19 seriously, and are wearing a mask. I hope everyone on the council is wearing one too. It is a patriotic duty, not a hindrance to your individual freedoms. I’m sad that I couldn’t be here in person, as I would’ve loved to speak about these comments physically, but I have finals to take for my courses.

Written and sent with the hopes that my voice will not be ignored, Rachel Paredes

From Dr. Emily Jackson:

Please read the following comment and document it in the permanent record of this meeting:

My name is Emily Jackson and I am a resident of Fullerton. I am making this comment to call for police transparency and full accountability in the brutal murder of Hector Hernandez by Fullerton police officers.  Hernandez’s friends and family deserve justice, and we all deserve accountability.

Emily Jackson MD MPH (she/her/hers)
Family Physician, Reproductive Health Specialist
Fullerton, CA 

From Santiago Sanchez:

Hello,

My name is Santiago Sanchez. I am emailing today to demand justice for the murder of Hector Hernandez.

Hector Hernandez should be alive today. Hector was a real man who was honest. Took care of his kids, who would give his shirt off his back. He was a leader in our community. He was a hard worker at the Fullerton U -Haul as a lead mechanic. He grew up in Fullerton. And sadly, was killed by Fullerton Police officer Ferrell, a person who was supposed to protect and serve.

I demand that officer Ferrell be dismissed and charged for the murder of Hector Hernandez. The officer should be charged and fully prosecuted of the law for murder.

Sincerely,
Santiago Sanchez

From Anne Sim:

My name is Anne Sim. I am urging the Fullerton City Council to take action regarding the disturbing use of lethal force by the Fullerton Police. I am calling on the Council to listen to the family and neighborhood, and immediately take actions that they are calling for. The people of Fullerton deserve a police department that is accountable and transparent. Let’s stop tragedies like the one experienced from happening again. This tragedy hurts us all, and we need action now. 

From Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente:

Hi my name is Bulmaro Vicente, and I am a resident of Santa Ana. I am here to support and join the family of Hector Hernandez in demanding that Officer Ferrel be dismissed and charged for the murder of Hector Hernandez. Police officers should be held accountable when they unjustly use lethal force to kill individuals. Hector’s family deserves justice, accountability, and transparency!

From Ada Briceño, Democratic Party of OC (DPOC)

Public Comment – shooting death of Hector Hernandez

To the City Council, I respectfully urge the City to take action regarding the disturbing case of lethal force this week. [sic] Listen to the family and neighborhood. The public deserves accountability and transparency of the programs that  we pay taxes for. It is clear that this tragedy hurts us all, and we need action.

Respectfully,
Ada Briceno
Ada F. Briceno, Chairwoman
Democratic Party of Orange County

(Five other Democrats, Libby Frolichman, Cindi Rice, Rachel Potucek, “M.T.”, and Paige Ortiz sent e-mails with nearly the same words.  Not to be a dick about it, but the incident was May 27, not “this week.”)

From Lyndsey Lefebvre, a Democrat who wrote her own letter:

What happened on May 27th is not unlike what happens other nights.

But tonight, people in your city are going to ask “What can our City Council do to make sure that this does not happen again?” It will not be the first time this question has been asked of a city council – and until there is recognition that there is something to prevent “it” in the first place, then we will continue to see the types of incidents that happened on May 27th. Or July 5th. [2011 – Kelly Thomas – ed.]

Serving the public means to be the artist of de-escalation. Many front line providers become performers of this strategy –  classroom teachers, nurses, emergency professionals, and even food workers learn to bring the energy lower so that way issues can safely resolve. Any workforce who deals with the public needs to have the desire to de-escalate and provide safety to the community. Somehow, I don’t think that this community feels safer after May 27th.

I hope City Council will encourage their policing structures to become more open to long-term changes so that way your workforce, the police department, can be more effective at their jobs without blood in the street. 

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Well, THAT took all day, but I thought these comments, sent in under the misimpression that they’d be read out loud, should at least be heard on the Orange Juice Blog.  We’ll be writing more soon about the murder of Hector Hernandez, but to tie everything all up in a circular way, one of the e-mailed comments, from OJ friend / Fullerton democracy activist Jane Reifer, was also in that batch of comments that NOBODY’S EVER GONNA SEE IF I DON’T REPOST IT HERE.  And we totally agree with it:

From Jane Reifer:

 Improving Public Participation During COVID-19

Dear Mayor and Councilmembers,

First, best wishes on your new council.

The ability for Fullerton residents to participate in local decision-making is becoming more difficult with COVID-19 restrictions.  Any issue that profoundly affects someone’s personal or business life, is an issue that they the public should have an opportunity to participate in.  People want to make their case in person because they feel that issues that are not voiced aloud during an actual council or commission meeting will not get the most attention.

First I want to let you know how upset I am that my e-comments were not read at the last council meeting. There is no excuse for this. It’s become very difficult to give public opinion at the numerous city committees and commissions, which each have chosen unique ways to address public participation, with little consistency. If an member of the public is used to participating one way, it can come as a surprise that a different committee has opposite rules for their meetings, resulting in a missed opportunity to participate.

Many major decisions are being made without the ability for the public’s participation. For example, at an October 14 Planning Commission public hearing, a developer had 40 minutes during public comment to make their case, while the public’s well-researched 3 submitted emails were neither read nor summarized, as promised on the agenda. [Sounds like Anaheim – ed.]

A recent survey of Orange County [hey, that must be my piece here! – ed.] showed that the city with the best participation methods seems to be Costa Mesa, which combines a Zoom webinar, Granicus (the municipal electronic information system) and YouTube for a meeting in which you can see the council and staff on a grid, and call in by phone to comment.

As the Council discontinues meeting in person, effective virtual methods, such as those suggested below, are essential:

Proposed Best Practices

Consistent protocol: The City should develop a consistent protocol for best practices for the council and commissions to have to have the same, reliable, method for public participation. The current practices are inconsistent across commissions, and sometimes even within a commission. If a consistent protocol can’t be developed, there should at least be a chart explaining the different methods.

Calendar links and charts: Meetings and calendars should clearly indicate how the public can participate, in English, Spanish, closed -caption, and any other necessary languages. This information should also be distributed in flyers or in materials that go out to residents who may not have computers. Water bills are a good method, but they are bi-monthly, and do not always go out to renters.

Phone access: Whether the councils and commissions meet in person or not, there should be phone access for people to submit comments, especially for those without smartphones or computers, or when there’s a technology glitch. (We can call this the Maureen Milton Method.)

Broadcast or livestream: There can be quite a learning curve for the public to know how to access the livestream, as each commission is different. The method should be clear, and provided well in advance, so participants don’t lose their opportunity to watch and/or comment. There should be instructions as to when to expect the video or livestream, which can be confusing.

Names and titles: These should be broadcast so you can see the councilmembers or commission members, and it would be helpful if names and staff titles can be available to know who is speaking and if they are speaking in an official capacity.

E-Comments: These should be [allow] more than 500 characters and should contain a separate field to insert your name, rather than having to set up an account. They should be available in Spanish, read out loud at council and commission meetings with the person’s name. There needs to be someone verifying that each item has an e-comment attached to it. For example, many Library Board of Trustee agenda items are missing a corresponding e-comment. Include a confirmation that the e -comment will be read and entered into the official record, and a final confirmation when it actually happens. It’s hard to make comments in real-time, and it would be helpful to give some kind of count down so people would know that the e-comment period is about to close.

City Council specific: Few people know that their public comments are sometimes addressed immediately after they are made and they leave without the benefit of hearing the feedback that they asked for, so this should be announced. Since meetings will now be virtual, there also needs to be an announcement for the public as to how to pull consent calendar items for discussion. We also need to address the ability of the public to show a photo or a chart during their public comment.

The public is always concerned that their points may not be made as powerfully if they submit a written comment rather than speaking directly to Councilmembers. This becomes especially important if a resident’s business, home, or something they care about strongly is “on the line.” Civic issues can have profound effects on the public, occasionally even at the level of life and death, and, especially during a pandemic, the public deserves to have its say.

I hope new systems can be implemented soon.
Thank you,
Jane Reifer.

Well, did anybody read that comment?

Bruce?  Ahmad?

Nick?  Jesus?

Fred?

Bueller?

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More articles about the Hector Hernandez Homicide:


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.