A Prince George’s County police officer captured on video hitting a suspect with his cruiser during a pursuit was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service in the case Friday morning.
A jury convicted Officer Juan Hernandez, 38, of second-degree assault in May.
Hernandez was chasing someone who was initially reported to be an armed suspect on June 13, 2016, prosecutors said. The suspect ran into a field, and Hernandez followed in his cruiser before striking the man during the incident, police video showed. The man turned out to be unarmed.
“I still think that this was an accident,” Hernandez said during his hearing. “I’m glad that he’s okay and nothing major happened to him.”
Judge Ingrid Turner specified Hernandez’s community service must involve directly working with youths and be finished in two years.
“This is a misuse of a position of trust in the community,” Turner said.
Prosecutors had asked that Hernandez spend three weekends in jail for the assault. Hernandez could have gotten closer to the suspect and jumped out of the cruiser to take him down, Prince George’s County Assistant State’s Attorney Joeday Newsom said. Hernandez did not check on the suspect’s condition after striking him, Newsom said.
“It was callous and lazy policing,” Newsom said.
Gina Ford, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, said cruiser camera video showed Hernandez turning into the man to run him over and it was “lucky” that the suspect wasn’t gravely injured. The man was not badly hurt and declined medical treatment.
Hernandez, who has been with the department for at least 11 years, was suspended on the day of the incident. Prince George’s County police investigated the incident internally and brought the case to the State’s Attorney’s Office for review.
Hernandez’s attorney Shaun Owens said the officer has had a spotless record outside of this incident and was so well-respected in the department that he had been tapped to mentor young officers.
Owens said officers have to make “split-second decisions” that could put their lives and the lives of the public at risk. On that night, Hernandez was worried that the man he was chasing was armed and a threat to the community, Owens said.
“This was not an intentional act on his part,” Owens said of his client’s actions.
Hernandez will face an internal review in the police department to determine whether he will be fired, Owens said. Hernandez had been acquitted of misconduct in office.
John Teletchea, president of the Fraternal Order of Police for Prince George’s County, said Hernandez had a “stellar record” within the police department before the jury found him guilty of assault.
“One incident should not define the great work this man has done in his career and throughout his life,” Teletchea said.