L.A. County sheriff to take over abuse probe of assemblyman
West Covina police have asked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to take over a criminal investigation involving a state assemblyman accused of domestic violence, to avoid any appearance of bias.
West Covina police Chief Frank Wills said Tuesday that he turned over the investigation of Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) because the legislator had filed complaints against seven city police officers in 2007.
Hernandez alleged then that police falsified reports for political reasons stemming from a visit to his home in response to a neighbor's 911 call about an abusive argument between a man and woman. Police reported that Hernandez and his campaign manager at the time, Paz Oliverez, admitted to an altercation, which both later denied.
"We want to make sure that the criminal justice system works fairly," Wills said. "We want to avoid any appearance of bias."
The current case involves allegations by a woman who had been dating Hernandez that he physically abused her in July, Wills said. West Covina police served the assemblyman with an emergency protective order Sunday after responding to a disturbance call about 7 p.m. at the Lazy Dog restaurant in West Covina, where Hernandez and the woman were dining, Wills said.
Hernandez had left the scene by the time authorities arrived, but the woman appeared shaken up. "The alleged victim made the statement that she was concerned for her personal safety and that Mr. Hernandez was erratic," Wills said.
The woman told officers that she had been the victim of a domestic violence incident in July. Wills said police had no report of the alleged incident from July.
Hernandez did not return a call seeking comment. His attorney, Anthony Falangetti, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on Monday night that the accusations were "completely false." Falangetti said the charges were politically motivated.
"The timing of these accusations is obviously designed to hurt the assemblyman in an election which is just a week away," Falangetti told the newspaper. "She alleges an incident occurred back in July, but only now she comes forward for newspaper headlines within days of the election."
Police declined to provide more detail about the incident. But the San Gabriel Valley Tribune report cited the protective order, which alleged Hernandez "struck [the victim] with a belt during an argument. Hernandez also grabbed [her] by her arms and slammed her against the wall causing visible injury."
The woman also "says she fears for her safety due to Hernandez using cocaine," the protective order reads, according to the newspaper. Falangetti called the drug-use allegations "ridiculous."
Hernandez made headlines this year after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in the Northern California city of Concord. A jury acquitted Hernandez on one count of drunk driving and a judge subsequently dismissed a second charge.
-- Michael J. Mishak and Teresa Watanabe
Photo: Roger Hernandez booking photo. Credit: Concord Police Department