14 Months of Justice Denied: What’s holding Spitzer up on Hector Hernandez case?

(Maybe this will just go away?)

It’s been over FOURTEEN MONTHS now, since Hector Hernandez was gunned down on his front lawn by Fullerton Police Officer Jonathan Ferrell while trying to fight off an attack dog that Ferrell had sicced on him seconds earlier.  Everyone is still waiting for OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer to complete his investigation of this OIS (officer-involved shooting) – when pressed months ago by Hector’s family and friends, and the Fullerton City Council itself, to make a decision on charging Ferrell, Todd promised it by late May.  But still … crickets.

What could be so complicated about this case?  Leave out the disastrous, leaderless chaos among the ten Fullerton cops that night, and the 14 months of FPD lies and cover-ups since then – those are not in Spitzer’s purview.  It seems pretty simple that Officer Ferrell 1) sicced his K9 “Rotar” on Hector for no compelling reason while Hector was holding his empty hands in the air as instructed, and then 2) seconds later shot Hector fatally, twice, while Hector was on his back trying to defend himself against the attacking dog.

Clearly Ferrell is a bad-decision-making hothead who valued the well-being of his dog over a human life.  And he is still on the force, which is a big problem.  A lot is being held up by Spitzer’s drawn-out Hamlet impersonation – the civil suit from Hector’s family is waiting on that;  Ferrell’s future with FPD is waiting on it; reforms to the FPD are waiting on it.


The idea that Spitzer will ever charge a law enforcement officer with killing or brutality also is waiting on it.  The only LEO he’s charged for anything in his three years was some female sheriff who stole and used an inmate’s credit cards.  Why, just a couple weeks ago we had to shell out $195K over the behavior of Michael Thalken,  a drunk off-duty sheriff who pulled a gun on a harmless, skateboarding kid in San Clemente, threatening him “Get down on your knees or I’ll blow your brains out,” not identifying himself as law enforcement and LYING about it afterwards… and Spitzer chose not to charge Thalken with ANYTHING.

Sure sounds like Todd is gravitating toward “The Cop is Always Right” philosophy.


I know two things:  Todd will read this because he cares what I think, and he is getting obsessed with the upcoming election next June where he’ll be challenged by popular Democratic reformer Peter Hardin.  His desperate-sounding fundraising e-mails paint Hardin as some criminal-loving caricature of liberal LA DA George Gascón.  But how will Todd distinguish himself in the remaining months, as better than Hardin?  He could either show that he’s tough but fair and eat into Hardin’s reformist base, or go full-bore “law and order” and keep the police unions and fearful conservatives happy.  It looks like he’s going with the latter.


Why did so many of us choose Spitzer over his crooked 20-year predecessor Tony Rackauckas, and how much better has Todd turned out to be than Tony?  Tony was a font of endless scandal, due to his skirting of rules, his cheating, the win-at-any-cost mentality he fostered within his department.  As far as I can tell Todd doesn’t cheat and lie like Tony did.  But as far as getting justice for victims of police brutality (OR busting political corruption), Todd’s record is about as bad as Tony’s so far. 

(Todd did please us reformers a bit by initiating an easier process for a law-abiding person to remove themselves from a gang injunction, but in the year since we gave him a lot of credit and praise for that, he’s only removed THREE applicants, and rejected several deserving folks without explanation.  Some call that “crumbs.”)

Back to the killing of Hector Hernandez, which seems like a pretty simple case that shouldn’t be taking over a year.  There’s two theories – Todd is afraid to rule against ANY cops and piss off those unions and hardcore “keep us safe at all costs” voters … or maybe he’s planning to charge Officer Ferrell but is waiting for the most politically opportune time to do it, hoping he’ll get a lot of good press for it next Spring or so.  Well, in the latter case, I don’t see how the public wouldn’t see through THAT, but also as the man said:

We’ll be speaking about this at the Fullerton City Council meeting tonight at 6, and hope the full Council will join Mayor Whitaker in YET ANOTHER STRONGLY WORDED LETTER OF IMPATIENCE to DA Spitzer.  See you there, we hope!

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.