What Hector Hernandez’ Neighbors saw that night.

Hector’s friends, neighbors and witnesses, Duane, Kelly & Bill. Right where it happened.

Fullerton’s West West Avenue is like a big family – everyone’s known each other for decades, and looks after each other.  So for example if there’s a domestic dispute in your house where you live with your girlfriend, her sons and your own young son, they are concerned.  And if gunshots are heard in your front yard, they rush right over to see if they can stop anything bad from happening.  And when ten cops show up on your lawn barking confusing orders and pointing their guns at you, they’ll be filming, paying close attention, and trying to talk everyone down.  And when one of those cops sics his K9 on you and then shoots you dead, they’ll be sure not to miss a detail, and then not rest until the world knows the truth.

Just saying, because you’re not going to get the truth from the Fullerton Police Department, or the credulous media.  To avoid confusion let’s first quickly recount what actually happened, from the point where the police showed up.

Hector came out of his house unexpectedly a few minutes after the police arrived, and immediately raised both his (empty) hands when ordered to by multiple hollering cops.  Nobody seemed to be in charge, no ranking officer or sergeant, and it was unclear what Hector was expected to do besides keep his hands up, which he did.  Then one Officer Jonathan Ferrell, who had arrived there first (ten minutes earlier) suddenly and for no apparent reason released his K9, named Rotar, who at first wasn’t sure who to attack but eventually settled on Hector.  At THAT point Hector lowered one hand in self-defense and jumped back, a split second before he was knocked down and mauled by the dog.  Hector pulled out his work knife from his pocket to defend himself, scratching Rotar on the shoulder, and Ferrell on seeing this shot Hector twice fatally – in the middle of the chest and then, we think, in the neck.

We’ll post video showing all that later in this piece.  But first let’s examine the evolution of FPD’s cover story.  The following film comes from OnScene TV:  it’s about half an hour after the killing, and PIO Eric Bridges is giving the official version of what happened, the version that was transcribed by the press and heard by the public:

Did you catch that?  According to the PIO, who must have known he was lying, Hector came out of his house holding a knife, and refused “numerous commands to drop the knife.”  He also claims that Hector was trying to re-enter the house, in which they (correctly) thought was still a minor, Hector’s nine-year old son, and that THIS is the reason the K9 was “deployed” and *ahem* “an officer-involved shooting occurred.”  (This story was repeated that week on Instagram, in a release that’s now deleted but was saved, printed and annotated by one of Hector’s friends.)

The PIO and every cop milling around there must have known that not only was most of this not true, but most of it would be DISPROVEN by their own body-cam footage as well as the many neighbors Filming The Police.  But I guess they just didn’t care.  This is what would go out to the media, this is what most people would hear and believe, in fact it’s what *I* read back in May and kind of forgot about the whole thing.  (I should know better.)

As you can see in this video taken by a concerned neighbor [ALWAYS FILM THE POLICE]
1) Hector was not holding a knife; 2) There were therefore no commands for him to drop the knife, let alone “numerous” ones, and there were no commands that he did not comply with; and 3) He was confused about where he was supposed to stand but he was not trying to get back in his house.

You’ll also notice that Hector kept both his hands up until the moment he saw the big German Shepherd running toward him, lowered one hand in a reflex of self-defense, and jumped back to avoid the dog. 

After a month, by late June when FPD released their “Critical Incident Community Briefing” press release and video, they had dropped the claim that Hector was brandishing a knife, but they continued to insist he was attempting to re-enter his house, and they began to put emphasis on his lowering his right hand, as though that were an extra reason for drastic action.  First here’s that press release, again annotated by Hector’s friends; click for better view:

One inaccuracy here, whether purposeful or sloppy, is claiming Hector fired the gun “while inside the house” – later we’ll hear the actual 911 call and Hector’s girlfriend’s son actually saying he was “in the courtyard.”  The following video was released at the same time, which I have cued up where the action starts.  (We can watch the first eleven minutes, which are all about making Hector look scary, a little later. You can hear the 911 calls there.)

What was Officer Ferrell yelling at his dog Rotar?  Did you know police dogs are trained in German?  (A quaint old custom.)  The police who created this video would just as soon you didn’t know what the commands mean, so they didn’t put most of it in the captions, but we looked it up here.  There are three commands we hear Ferrell barking at Rotar:

K9 handler Jonathan Ferrell.

1. Fuß is what we civilians would translate “Heel,” and that’s what you hear Ferrell saying a few times around 11:20 to calm the dog down as it becomes agitated with all the yelling and tension and is straining at the leash to go after SOMEBODY.

2. Fass means “BITE” in Dog German, and Ferrell yells Fass over twenty times beginning at 11:33 when he lets the dog go (22:13:23 on the clock.)  It’s still unclear WHY Ferrell ordered Rotar to attack and bite Hector at that moment.

3. Hier means here –  Ferrell yells that a few times from 11:35-40 to re-direct the dog who has run WAY off in the wrong direction, apparently toward some yelling gun-waving cops, since Hector seemed so harmless.

4. Then at 11:40 when Rotar’s back on target, it’s back to “Fass-Fass-Fass! Fass! Fass Fass!  GET ON THE GROUND!  Fass Fass Fass!” as Ferrell makes sure the dog keeps biting Hector while he’s down, until the very moment Ferrell shoots him (11:48, 22:13:38 on the clock.)

While Ferrell fires his fatal second gunshot, he yells “He’s got a knife!” and then “Fass!” one more time … and Hector never moves again, even though police keep yelling, “Lemme see your hands!” and “Get your hands up above your head!”  (Ferrell even says “Fass” a few more times after that, as though he had a mouth full of Fass.)

Preparing a new Lie – the Lowered Right Hand

Look! One hand down!

We’ve already seen that, just as he’s getting rushed by the big German Shepherd, Hector lowers his right hand in a self-defense reflex.  Maybe that’s when he grabbed his knife, maybe he grabbed it later when he was on the ground, it’s impossible for us OR the cops to tell.  But notably he quickly jumps back from the dog before getting knocked down, so any stories about him “attacking the dog” are BS fantasy.

Ferrell and Rotar at Rotar’s “ceremonial retirement.”

But the FPD spends two minutes of the video in some lame obsession with exactly WHAT split second Hector lowered his hand.  First, at 12:06 they show footage in SILENT SLOW MOTION proving nothing.  At 12:30 they show bodycam footage from cops several houses away with lots of gratuitous shouts of “Get your hands up! Keep your hands up!” while Hector DID have his hands up.  And then, from 13:40 to 14:12, lamest of all, three STILLS – of Hector hands up, Hector one hand down, and Hector on ground.  They’re not coming out and saying it, but they’re SUGGESTING as hard as they can, that Hector lowering his hand was the CAUSE, not the RESULT, of Ferrell siccing Rotar on him.  Pretty sneaky.  I doubt a jury will fall for that; will DA Todd?

An interesting detail you learn at 15:22 is that, after Ferrell kills Hector, the K9 Rotar started attacking Ferrell!  A hurt and worried-sounding Ferrell blames it on the dog being stabbed and irrational, but it makes sense to us that the dog could tell at that point that Ferrell was the real aggressor, the real danger.  And maybe that was the real reason, not the minor shoulder wound, that the K9 was retired soon after.

We think it’s very clear that Ferrell had no good reason to deploy Rotar on Hector, and a few seconds later had no good reason to shoot Hector fatally, beyond rage that his dog was being hurt (in self-defense.)  This was a wrongful death, illegal under AB 392, and FPD needs to stop covering up and lying about it.

But let’s not forget – LACK OF LEADERSHIP

It’s possible that none of this would have happened, that Ferrell wouldn’t have lost his patience or panicked or whatever, and Hector would still be alive, if only one of the ten or so cops there had had leadership of the situation.  Nobody seemed to be in charge.  From the moment Hector appeared unexpectedly on his front porch, there were half a dozen cops yelling “Put your hands up!” over and over, for ten seconds, to a guy who already had his hands up, and was obviously just trying to comply. 

It’s also a lie that Hector “paced back and forth from the front door several times” as the FPD claim in all their releases.  He went forward toward the street with his hands up, and then he backed up a little – ONCE.  There’s no sign he was trying to get back into his front door, the front door that had been there all his life.  Rather, it seems like he was trying to get into the bright light of the front porch so these policemen could SEE that he had his hands up.  He obviously didn’t know what else they were expecting of him. 

What had happened BEFORE all this…

NOW we’ll talk about the events leading up to this tragedy, bearing in mind that none of them justify Hector’s execution.  That night there was a BIG fight in Hector’s home.  He had been drinking.  He was pissed off at his girlfriend’s teenaged sons, for what he saw as playing video games all day and not working or going to school.  He yanked away a video-game control from one of them, which led to the two oldest teenagers and one of their teenaged friends – all of whom were Hector’s size – beating Hector up, and at one point one of them kicked Hector in the face while he was down.  In reaction to that, Hector pulled out his work knife out of his pocket – a foldable knife he always used at his job at a U-Haul warehouse, a job he’d had for about 20 years. He waved the knife at the teenagers, hoping to make them leave him alone, but they just laughed.  The youngest teenager ran to a neighbor’s house to call the police and say their “stepdad” was threatening them with a knife.

Hector’s gun as found by police after the killing.

Then Hector went to his bedroom to retrieve his gun – maybe he could scare away the teenagers with THAT.  He chased them out of the house and fired it three or four times into the ground.  (He was OUTSIDE the house as the 911 call stated, not inside as the Critical Incident Report states.  And note that he was never even accused of trying to stab or shoot anybody.)  As the neighbors showed up hearing the gunshots, they saw one of the teenagers skipping away from the house, taunting Hector, “Let’s see how brave you are when the cops show up!”  A female neighbor made a second call to the cops, reporting the gunshots, not expecting things to turn out as they did.

You can hear the 911 calls on the video below, and it’s understandable that the police thought they were dealing with a very dangerous guy and situation.  The only people left inside the house when they got there were Hector and his own 9-year old son.  A homeless man called Victor was living in Hector’s garage, and the police removed him peacefully. Drunk and upset as Hector may have been, he had the presence of mind to go back inside and return the gun, unloaded, into the box where it belonged. When Hector came out the front door of his own accord, his hands were raised, and his face was bloody from the kick he’d received.

And the rest of the story, if you didn’t know, now you know. 

You can see the FPD video from the beginning now if you wanna…

Lower left – Ferrell at a November briefing before going out on night patrol.
Following community outrage that he was still on the street, FPD did the brave, right thing,
and cropped him out of the online photo. *SNARK*

Hector Hernandez, 1985-2020

It’s obvious from comments everywhere that Hector, generally described as “a family-oriented guy,” was beloved by his neighborhood.   He’d lived in that house on West West Avenue his entire life.  All the kids of the neighborhoods used to flock to his place, to play football in the street with him, or throw water balloons when it was hot.  When I visited his place recently, a portable basketball hoop lay in the street out front, as though in mourning.

He never really had a family growing up on West West Street, so the neighbors were his family.  He’d been adopted by an elderly lady who owned that house and left it to him when she died.  At the time he was the only person working out of the seven people living there – his own son, his homeless friend Victor, the “girlfriend” whom he’d broken up with and gotten back together with three times (she had nowhere else to go), her two teenaged sons and another teenage friend of theirs who had nowhere else to go.

Neighbor Bill Brown knew him for 18 years: “Anytime he’d get home from work, he’d wander up to my garage and want to borrow stuff. He’d help me fix things just like he’d do with everyone in the neighborhood. He’d give you his last dollar if you needed it.”

A young male neighbor tearfully attested, at a Council meeting, “Hector taught me how to be a father.”

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the City by the mother of one of Hector’s sons, on behalf of both his sons;  the family is being represented by the law firm of Garo Mardirossian and Associates, who also represented the father of Kelly Thomas, killed 9 years earlier by Fullerton Police.

Protests over Hector’s killing have been getting more frequent and better attended, especially since it’s come to light that Officer Ferrell is still on the street.  The next protest will be Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 6, at Fullerton City Hall, although with the spike in Covid it won’t be an in-person meeting but Zoom.  HERE are the instructions for submitting a comment to City Council, through “E-comments,” and having it read by the city clerk.  To stay up to date with this case, you could follow the Facebook page “Justice For Hector Hernandez.”

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.