"Well now I'm no hero, that's understood. All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood." - from Bruce Springsteen's greatest song, "Thunder Road"
LAPD field training officer Antonio Hernandez, 38, and his trainee, officer Joy Park, 35, were cruising along Hartford Avenue near 7th Street just west of downtown on the night of Dec. 29 when they saw a man with an open container. They stopped and confronted the man who was standing near the hood of a parked car.
As they were conducting an interview, gun shots rang out. By the third shot, Park was in agony.
When Joy Yoosun Park was a little girl growing up in Korea her father, a policeman in Seoul, regaled her with stories of his daily adventures. Joy was enthralled and dreamed one day she, too, would be a police officer.
During that time, across the Pacific, 5,960 miles away in El Monte, Antonio Hernandez was growing up and – after moving to Pomona where he attended high school – considering a career with the LAPD. In, 2002, he joined up and, after a 1-year probationary period in the 77th, was sent to Rampart Division in July 2003. Hernandez worked the gang unit there for nine years before becoming a F.T.O. a Field Training Officer.
Park was 17 when she migrated to America. After graduating from Los Angeles Lutheran High School in Sylmar she continued her education at Cal State L.A. where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, whatever that is.
Still, her dream of being a cop never blurred. The problem was she needed to be a naturalized citizen. From when she applied to when she finally became a citizen took over a decade. But, as soon as she got that treasured certificate, she set her sights on the police academy. She graduated last April. It was a glorious achievement for her and for her parents.
“Mom and Dad couldn’t be more proud,” Park said. “It’s an honor to our family to have two generations in law enforcement."
Park, assigned to Rampart, had already passed the first two phases of her probationary period when she teamed up with Hernandez
“Sir, I wouldn’t even consider Park a trainee because she knew her stuff and had already passed Phase Two” of the probationary period,” said Hernandez. “She was compassionate and caring. She knew how to talk to people. She asked me the right questions.”
It was about 9:50 when they turned onto Hartford Avenue, a street in the turf of some gang called Witmer Street 13.
Back to the man with the open container. You might say “Why bother? It’s just an open can of beer.” And I get that. But, this wasn’t your normal open container. It was a 23.5 ounce can of Four Loko, an alcoholic caffeinated beverage so notorious even the Washington Post referred to it as “a blackout in a can”.
So, this Four Loko guy is going along with the program, cooperating and about to get a citation, when the gun fire erupts on Hartford.
Hernandez intuitively ducked for cover behind the parked car, then saw that Parks had been shot in the leg. Park was in tremendous pain and couldn't speak. Immediately, Hernandez pulled her to cover behind the parked car as he scanned for the source of the gunfire.
"I didn't see any blood, but I saw the hole in her pants," said Hernandez, adding that in those first frenzied seconds he pulled drinker man to safety, too. "I was trying to figure out where the shots were coming from .It seemed like they were coming from 8th Street."
As soon as they were all semi- shielded, Hernandez got on his radio. “We need help! Officer down!”, Hernandez yelled into his radio, his adrenaline up, his awareness sky high. Time seemed to slow down.
As he waited for back-up and the first volley of shot stopped, Hernandez had a dreaded thought. “The guy could be reloading and getting closer. I was very concerned for my partner.”
But, within seconds, Hernandez could hear reinforcements coming to the rescue. "In less than a minute there were 50 officers there."
Soon Park was loaded into an ambulance on on her way to County USC. .
Not long after that, a suspect was arrested. Wednesday, Ivan Castillo, 27, was charged with two counts of attempted murder of a peace officer and two counts of assault on a peace officer with a semiautomatic firearm. Castillo was also charged with attempted murder and assault with a semiautomatic firearm on the Four Loko guy who was near the officers at the time of the shooting. Castillo is being held on $4 million bail at Wayside. If convicted of the charges, he faces up to life in prison.
Last Thursday, nearly a week after the shooting. Park gave three interviews from her hospital room where she is starting rehabilitation. Two interviews were to local television stations. Soft spoken Park was quick to praise Hernandez.
“He was just like you are supposed to be, He was cool and calm. When I got shot, he was my first thought.”
One of her other thoughts that night was her mother.“I was so worried about how my mother would take the news and if she would get sick," said Park, her elegant mother sitting a few feet away, saying nothing, but looking proud..
Park faces several months of rehab. Dr. Steven J. Hsu, the associate medical director of the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Keck Medical Center of USC, said Park suffered "a significant, high impact injury that fractured her femur" and she will need four to six months of treatment but a full recovery is expected. Hsu said by about one inch, the bullet missed Park's femoral artery, a wound that often results in death.
The day after the shooting, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said this of Park and Hernandez; “They were doing their job and were targeted for it by a coward.”
Sunday, yesterday, during a visit at Men’s Central Jail, Cleamon Big Evil” Johnson, a well-known gang member from 89 Family Swans, said this of the shooter after hearing he had “ambushed” them from up to 500 feet away. “That’s not an ambusher, that’s a coward.”
It was the first known time that Big Evil and Chief Beck agreed on something.
Nobody in the LAPD wants their partner to get shot. They might have disputes, and the guy or gal riding shotgun might annoy the shit outta them at times, but no one really wants their partner shot.
But, somewhere in the recesses of their brain, I’m betting most of the men and woman in the LAPD, or any police force, for that matter, have wondered how they would react if their partner was, indeed, shot and wounded.
The officer down, well, she or he doesn’t have a whole lotta wondering to do on how they would react. They’ve been shot and not a lot is expected of them other than to go horizontal and writhe in pain. The partner, though, all eyes turn to him or her. Just the way Park’s frantic eyes turned to Hernandez’ “I got you” eyes .
Hernandez fends off the praises that he was a hero, prompting me to think of that line up top from “Thunder Road”.
‘I’m not a hero,” he said. “I don’t consider myself a hero. I just did what I was trained to do. And I was there for my partner when she needed me the most.”
When I asked Antonio Hernandez to send me a photo of himself, he replied "I'd rather not sir."
(Editor's Note- Saji Mathai, the copy editor for Krikorian Writes is on strike, hence....)