Who was Angel Hernandez? San Diego man died like George Floyd with knee on neck for over 9 minutes in 2019

Two MTS security personnel kneeled on the neck and back of the 24-year-old man for over nine minutes


                            Who was Angel Hernandez? San Diego man died like George Floyd with knee on neck for over 9 minutes in 2019
Video footage showing two Metropolitan Transit S officers kneeling down on Angel Zapata Hernandez minutes before his death (MTS)

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes in May 2020, was recently pronounced guilty on charges of murder and manslaughter. Floyd's brutal custodial death sparked massive outrage across the world, leading the Black Lives Matter campaign. Chauvin's guilty verdict was celebrated as a victory of justice amid rising instances of police brutality across USA. 

However, a video from 2019 from San Diego has recently surfaced that shows two Metropolitan Transit Service security guards kneeling down on the neck of a young man as he gasped for breath. The man was 24-year-old Angel Zapata Hernandez, who died on the evening of October 15, 2019, in downtown San Diego. Though shockingly similar in nature to George Floyd's killing, Hernandez's death went unnoticed by mainstream media till now. 

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Who was Angel Zapata Hernandez?

On Monday, April 19, 2021, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) admitted wrongdoing in the death of Angel Zapata Hernandez and announced the amount of $5.5 million to be paid to his family, according to NBC San Diego.

On the fateful evening of October 15, 2019, Hernandez had wandered onto the train platform at Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. He was reportedly 'acting erratically' and 'possibly under the influence', as stated in the police statement from October 16, 2019. 

As he ran from the security officers, he was tackled and handcuffed by two MTS security personnel who then held him face down onto the concrete. The video shows that the guards restrained him by placing their knees on his back and neck. As one of the personnel kneeled down on his neck, Hernandez visibly struggled to breathe. According to Los Angeles Times, they held him like that for nine minutes and 41 seconds, before he lost consciousness. He died later at a hospital.

His death resulted from 'sudden cardiopulmonary arrest while in a prone restraint', as confirmed by the San Diego County Medical Examiner. The cause of death was similar to George Floyd, who died of 'cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.'

The statement issued by San Diego Police Department the day after Hernandez's death missed out on crucial details, including the brutal manner of restraint by the guards. “The witnesses did not see any use of force by the MTS employees other than trying to hold the male down on the ground as he kicked and screamed," mentioned the police statement.

The autopsy report was sealed by the police on grounds that releasing the information would 'seriously hamper' the investigation. The video footage was not made public until recently as per the family of Angel Zapata Hernandez, while they were fighting the legal battle for his death. 

It is believed that Angel Zapata Hernandez's brutal death was shielded from public knowledge for over 18 months due to multiple reasons. Los Angeles Times mentions the status of the MTS security personnel in this context, who are not sworn police officers or peace officers under law. Though the law mandated the release of bodycam footage within 45 days in case of custodial death by police, the law did not apply to MTS security officers. 

The case did not lead to any prosecution as the San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan declared that there was not sufficient evidence to prove charges of murder or manslaughter. 

'An emptiness in our hearts that will never go away'

According to Hernandez's family, the 24-year-old was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was under daily medication for the same. His mother, Claudia Hernandez, spoke emotionally about her son following the announcement of the settlement and the public release of the video. However, she has not seen the video yet. 

"My son, Angel, he was a good person. He loved his family and we loved him. He loved to laugh, he loved his dog Luna, he loved his life," she said. "His death has left an emptiness in our hearts that will never go away. The best way to honor Angel’s memory is that no family ever has to suffer the needless loss of their child. My deepest hope is that this settlement and the changes that MTS has made will ensure that this never happens again," his mother told NBC San Diego. 

Meanwhile, MTS CEO Sharoon Cooney admitted the 'wrongdoing' on behalf of the agency, stating, "I’m here to say, without equivocation, the security personnel with MTS made mistakes on Oct. 15, 2019, that contributed to Mr. Hernandez’s death." 

Speaking about the footage of his death, Cooney added, "This is very disturbing. I’ve seen it many times and it still disturbs me. We do believe that without a doubt, that the awful outcome could have been avoided had we provided better training for psychiatric emergency response and more robust de-escalation training."

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