Arrested officer had history of discipline issues, repeated encounters with SAPD. Why was he allowed to protect and serve?

Officer David Hernandez hired by Von Ormy Police Department two months after resigning from Helotes PD, records show

A Von Ormy police officer fired last month after being charged with family assault had repeated encounters with San Antonio police prior to being taken into custody, records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

SAN ANTONIO – A Von Ormy police officer fired last month after being charged with family assault had repeated encounters with San Antonio police prior to being taken into custody, records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

David Hernandez, 34, was jailed May 1 after investigators said he grabbed a woman by her neck and pushed her into a wall at a duplex in the 8400 block of Cranberry Hill.

The woman suffered minor injuries, SAPD records show.

San Antonio police had been called to the West Side duplex 15 times in less than 15 months, on calls ranging from disturbances, to assaults in progress and family violence, records show.

Hernandez was at times listed as the suspect, the victim or as a witness.

One officer responding to a family violence call on March 19 noted in his report that upon arriving at the Cranberry Hill property he “already knew the three parties involved,” adding that he had been there previously after the three people, Hernandez and two women, had spent a night drinking heavily.

During the March 19 incident, Hernandez was accused of fighting with his girlfriend.

SAPD officers were called to this duplex on Cranberry Hill 15 times in less than 15 months. (KSAT)

The other woman was also accused of throwing car keys at the face of Hernandez’s girlfriend.

Officers, however, declined to charge anyone since “all three subjects gave some different versions of their story to the five other officers” at the scene, the incident report states.

Just eight days earlier, SAPD officers had responded to the same duplex for a separate family violence call involving Hernandez.

During that incident, Hernandez and his girlfriend had gotten into an “altercation” after he found her sending text messages to an undisclosed individual, according to the incident report.

SAPD officers had also responded to a home in the 5100 block of Kayla Brook in January 2019, after Hernandez and his girlfriend had been fighting over his phone and keys, records show. Neither person was criminally charged after the woman told officers she had not been assaulted.

Hernandez is scheduled to make a court appearance in his misdemeanor family assault case July 26.

His criminal defense attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

“Rude and condescending behavior”

Hernandez’s repeated off duty encounters with police played out while he worked for two area law enforcement agencies.

Von Ormy police officials terminated Hernandez from his reserve officer position May 3, two days after his arrest.

He had been hired by the city less than a year earlier, however, just two months after resigning in lieu of termination from the Helotes Police Department.

Hernandez’s personnel file from Helotes PD, where he worked as a full time officer from October 2014 to April 2020, includes two major discipline incidents.

In May 2018, during a traffic stop near O’Connor High School, a department camera caught Hernandez directing foul language and rude and condescending behavior toward a motorist, records show.

Leslie Road in northwest Bexar County. (KSAT)

After Helotes police administration became aware of the video months later, in August 2018, they noted that he committed the same traffic violation he accused the driver of: speeding through a parking lot near pedestrians.

Hernandez was eventually suspended three days and placed on probation at work for six months, after the investigation determined he violated three department rules pertaining to responsibility to serve the public.

Despite taking “full responsibility for not conducting myself as a professional,” Hernandez appealed the suspension and described it as too harsh.

Hernandez’s appeal was denied, records show.

Less than two years later, in March 2020, Hernandez’s actions were again scrutinized after an incident while he was in full uniform at a house outside Devine, in Medina County.

While working off duty for a public security firm, Hernandez showed up at the home in order to oversee the transfer of property between the woman living there and her husband.

Hernandez accompanied the husband and members of his family during the transfer, at one point producing a list of items that were not part of the temporary court orders, records show.

Hernandez insisted that some of the items be given to the husband, despite the objections of the woman, her parents and the woman’s divorce attorney.

Hernandez became “loud, argumentative” and was described as “obnoxious” in a subsequent complaint detailing his actions during the incident. He was also criticized by the woman and her family for allowing the husband to be at the property, even though the husband had pending domestic violence charges.

An internal affairs investigation determined that not only had Hernandez failed to familiarize himself with the court orders, but he had also not gotten a valid permit from Helotes to work the secondary job.

Hernandez was also cited for improper conduct and behavior and for not showing neutrality during a civil action, records show.

In late March 2020, records signed by Helotes Police Chief Rob Hunley state that Hernandez was “to be terminated from employment.”

Helotes city officials acknowledged last month that Hernandez instead resigned.

“We’re just not going to condone bad behavior,” Chief Hunley said via telephone earlier this month, when asked about Hernandez’s work history in Helotes.

Hunley added that he was unaware of the multiple domestic violence calls to police involving Hernandez while Hernandez worked for his department.

Von Ormy officials, meanwhile, defended their hiring of Hernandez weeks after his arrest, even while asking the state attorney general to allow them to withhold releasing his personnel file.

Von Ormy Police Chief Lionel Perez said officials who reviewed Hernandez’s personnel file with the Helotes’ Human Resources department did not see any records from the Medina County incident.

“The former VOPD Chief of Police hired him based on the documents that were turned in to him at the time and after reviewing his file at the HR department for Helotes PD. However, none of these documents were in his file at HR,” Chief Perez said via email last month.

Hunley, given a chance to respond, said via telephone this month that the files were in the records reviewed by Von Ormy officials and that he does not know why they would say that.

“The Wandering Officer”

The poor transfer of information between departments is not surprising to Ben Grunwald, associate professor of law at Duke University.

Grunwald co-authored a breakthrough study published in the Yale Law Journal in April 2020 titled ‘The Wandering Officer.’

Using a data set of 98,000 full-time law enforcement officers in Florida over a 30-year period, Grunwald and University of Chicago Assistant Professor of Law John Rappaport found that officers fired or that quit while being investigated for misconduct are twice as likely to be terminated from their next law enforcement job.

These members of law enforcement, called “wandering officers,” are also twice as likely to get a moral character complaint lodged and sustained against them, the records showed.

“When a police officer gets fired and gets another job, they tend to move to agencies that are much smaller and have fewer resources,” said Grunwald, describing another major finding from the study.

Duke University Associate Professor of Law Ben Grunwald. (KSAT)

Helotes is more than eight times larger than Von Ormy, according to the most recently available census figures.

Although the Von Ormy Police Department has close to 30 officers, one of the officers recently conceded that a vast majority of them are reserves who only work for the department part-time.

Grunwald and Rappaport’s study also revealed how common wandering officers are.

At any given time in Florida between 1988 and 2016, over 1,000 wandering officers were working full-time in law enforcement, the study found.

Grunwald noted during his interview with KSAT that poor information, the apparent issue that allowed Hernandez to be hired in Von Ormy, was responsible for a large fraction of cases in the Florida data set he examined.

Grunwald said in many other instances law enforcement agencies hire “wandering officers” because it saves them money on training, since the officer has already gone through a police academy.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Dale Keller is senior news photographer at KSAT-12.