Exactly two years ago last Thursday, 21-year old Martin Angel Hernandez, a father, a brother, and an admired member of the Wakefield community in Anaheim was gunned down by police.
On the night of March 6th of 2012, officials state that they responded to a call about ”five or six men in an alley,” “some armed,” near the 100 block of East Wakefield Avenue. That night, Anaheim officer, Dan Hurtado, along with another officer, surrounded opposite ends of the Wakefield alley to approach the “suspects.” Officers claimed that two men were “heading westbound toward” Hurtado, at which point Hurtado “issued commands” which caused Hernandez to turn and run in the “opposite direction.” Officers dispute that Hernandez was armed with a shotgun, and that at one point, turned around towards Hurtado, which prompted him to shoot Hernandez in the head.
Those who witnessed the shooting, however, have described that Martin was gunned down, and murdered execution-style. Residents described that Hernandez had given up that night when Hurtado proceeded to shoot Martin through the head.
The days following his death, tensions only grew throughout the Wakefield alley where Martin was killed as Anaheim gang unit officers continuously roamed the streets, vigilantly “patrolling” Hernandez’s memorial as family and loved ones mourned his death. Angered residents would respond with multiple demonstrations and by marching through the neighborhoods, demanding justice for their loved one.
Following the unrest, the Anaheim police department held a “community forum” at the Ponderosa Elementary School library, just across the street from the Wakefield neighborhood, in an attempt to clear any “rumors” revolving around Martin’s shooting. With the library filled over capacity, then-Anaheim Police Chief, John Welter, and Head of Anaheim Gang Unit, Sgt. Juan Reveles, dismissed any evidence as mere “rumors” and attempted to appease the furious community by giving the police’s official narrative on the case.
The discontented residents, who described their familiarity with police abuse and harassment, were promised an independent investigation, as well as better communication and collaboration by officers. Instead, impoverished Anaheim neighborhoods have been served with gang injunctions and continued violence by police.
10 months after Hernandez’s death, Dan Hurtado, was cleared from any “culpability” by the Orange County District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas. A nine-page report argued that there was no “criminal conduct” by Hurtado when shooting Martin in the head with his “department-issued Bushmaster AR 15 Semi-automatic rifle.” Though investigators from the Orange County District Attorney Special Assignment Unit (O.C.D.A.S.A.U.) interviewed “nearly 60 witnesses,” only two were referenced throughout the report. A large portion of the report seemed to focus on “tattoos” and “shaved heads” as a means of designating an identity to the Wakefield residents, with one of the accredited witnesses describing Hernandez as a “typical cholo.”
With justifications from the Orange County district attorney, and strict imposed gang injunction limitations, profiled youth in Wakefield have become targets of continued intimidation and persecution by police.
Not long after the D.A. report was released, Dan Hurtado and other officers were described harassing youth in the Wakefield neighborhood. Witnesses reported that Hurtado was even out boasting the fact that he was the officer that killed Martin Hernandez.
“He said, I shot Tripps, I shot Tripps” described a resident.
A few weeks later, during a demonstration at the Anaheim Police Department lobby on Mother’s Day, distraught mothers and family members presented complaints of the Wakefield clash, as well as continuous harassment by Anaheim police officials.
Lieutenant Steve Marcin, dismissed the reports of Hurtado boasting the killing of Martin, claiming that he had spoken to the watch commander who was out on the call the night of the incidents.
“If you have evidence that one of our officers is bragging about something like that, then please bring it forward to the police department so that we can address that,” stated Marcin.
Now, two years after Martin’s death, none of this has deterred his sister, Sonia Hernandez, from taking up her brother’s fight for justice while demanding accountability on behalf of the Anaheim police department.
On Thursday, Sonia organized a vigil to memorialize her brother, as well as to bring awareness about a larger movement against continued police “terror.”
The vigil, which began as a march from the nearby Ponderosa Park, was predominantly made up of neighborhood youth, many of which have supported previous demonstrations in memory of Martin. Their voices, along with those of many Wakefield residents, have continually manifested the affection from the communtiy for their loved one.
“Anaheim police officers cannot continue to get away with murder!” shared Sonia, “We are sick and tired of having candlelight vigils in honor of so many families! There’s just too many families!”
A sudden pause took a hold of the alley space and tears were shared amongst the tentative crowd when Martin’s 4-year-old son, ZJ, took the microphone to share some words.
“Justice for Martin !” repeated one of the youngest members of the event, “I love my daddy! We’re going to fight for my daddy!”
“We have to keep fighting!” added Genevieve, “For us to go to the federal courthouse thinking that maybe we could get a little bit of justice - we were denied today, but that doesn’t mean we stop. That means we fight harder! Never give up! We have too much love, and too much power, to let these cops continue to get away with murder.”
Genevieve Huizar, whose son, Manuel Angel Diaz, was killed by Anaheim police officer, Nick “Buckshot” Bennallack, just months after Martin was killed, made reference to the civil trial that came to an end earlier on Thursday.
A federal jury found Bennallack not guilty of using “excessive force” in the fatal shooting of Diaz.
Manuel’s killing had also been justified by District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas.
For many, this is a constant confirmation about the underprivileged communities’ relationship with police, “shoot first, ask questions later.”
“This group gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, because they don’t stop killing,” explained Damion Ramirez, whose best friend Michael Lee Nida was killed by Downey police in 2011, “The only hope that we have is to stand together and stand up for each other - start sticking up for each other!”
Thursday’s vigil concluded with a group prayer where many spent some moments next to Martin’s memorial to share some thoughts and a promise to continue fighting.
The vigil had an attendance of other victims’ families including those of Joe Whitehouse (Anaheim), Rigoberto Arceo (Cudahy), Andres Avila (Pomona), and Joel Acevedo (Anaheim). Supporters representing the Kenneth Harding Jr. Foundation from the Bay Area also traveled to stand in solidarity with the families from Southern California.
As part of a growing movement against police brutality, many of the families plan to support the family of Robert Villa on Monday during a scheduled rally. Villa was recently shot and killed by police officers in Tustin. The rally is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the corner of Red Hill Ave and Nisson Rd in the city of Tustin.