As residents prepare , and an accused police officer prepares for his next day in court, more details are emerging in the pepper spray blinding case of a Beaumont woman.
Beaumont resident Monique Hernandez, 31, with Beaumont Police Officer Enoch Clark. That night, she was sprayed with a high-powered pepper spray device called a JPX—and will never see again, according to district attorney reports.
Now, the grand jury investigation that led to the indictment of Officer Clark has been made public and since been obtained by Banning-Beaumont Patch, and more details are coming to light.
The investigation—held in secret on April 17, 18 and 19 in front of a 19 member criminal grand jury—involved several interviews with people involved in the case, including Clark’s backup officer and patrol supervisor who gave their accounts of Feb. 21.
In the transcripts from the grand jury proceedings, Deputy District Attorney Mike Carney questions a total of 10 people: witnesses, experts, investigators and Hernandez herself, included.
In her portion of the proceedings, Hernandez—a former employee of the year at the Beaumont Wal-Mart where she worked until this incident—says that she was first tested for a DUI by Clark via a breathalyzer, but it did not appear to be functioning correctly.
“So [Clark] told me to come over kind of by the front of his police car, and I stood there,” she describes. “He had me do a breathalyzer. He told me to take a deep breath and blow in until he told me to stop, which I did. I believe he gave me a breathalyzer—four different times he had me blow.”
Next, she was asked to do a series of field sobriety tests, according to testimony given by several people.
“I told him that if he had enough probable cause based on the other field sobriety tests he performed, he could go ahead and make the arrest, take Monique back to the station, and then conduct a Preliminary Alcohol Screening device test at the station since there’s other ones there,” said Beaumont Police Corporal Francisco Velazquez, Jr., who was on scene with Clark that night.
Though it’s not clear what Hernandez’ blood alcohol level was at the time, testimony indicates she may have been driving under the influence of alcohol—as the deputy district attorney pointed out in his opening statement.
“…As citizens, I think we should have asked that he put forth some effort there to arrest this drunk woman,” Carney said, addressing the jury and familiarizing them with the case. “This woman who was on her worst night in the worst night in her worst behavior and didn’t just need protection. We didn’t just need protection from her driving, she needed protection from herself, and that was his job at that point.
“But what did he do? He took the route that was really, frankly put, lazy. And he let annoyance get the better of him, because he pulled out his JPX, pointed it at her face from only six to maybe ten inches away, held it down for a second, then picked it back up again as she continued to argue. In frustration, you’ll see [in the dashboard camera video] he put it down, and as she kept talking, he went ahead, pulled it up, and shot her.”
In addition to the implied allegations by Carney above, Beaumont Police Commander Gregory Fagan testified that the department has requested driving under the influence charges be filed against Hernandez with the D.A.
Despite what state Hernandez may or may not have been in, she insists that she did not resist being arrested by Clark—rather, she was trying to ask him what the breathalyzer test indicated about her blood alcohol level.
At that point, testimony indicates Hernandez was standing in front of the police car, facing away from Clark, when he went to handcuff her.
“So, you know, I, like, turned to, like, question, like, you know, ‘Are you arresting me? What is my alcohol level?’ Like ‘What did I blow?’ when he arrested me,” she states in the transcript.
“I don’t feel I was resisting,” she said. “I even feel that I was thinking to myself why is he telling me, you know, like not to resist when I don’t even feel that I’m resisting.”
The Sheriff’s Department Investigation
Though Officer Clark was not questioned in this grand jury proceeding, as the point of it is to determine if a crime may have been committed in the first place, the sheriff’s department investigator who interviewed him did get called into the proceeding.
Investigator DeLasandro Dean testified that Clark claimed he couldn’t get both handcuffs on Hernandez. He managed to get the left wrist cuffed, but was having a difficult time with the right one.
“He basically says he’s attempting to put the right cuff, and [Hernandez] is, as he describes it to me, pushing down, and I didn’t really understand it at first, even being a cop, I had to ask, like, explain it to me,” Dean said. “What are you talking about? Well, she’s turning her wrist. And if you turn your wrist, it prevents the officer from, basically putting it on without having to use addition force. So she’s kind of moving. She’s turning."
Still, Dean says, Clark said he never lost control of both wrists—holding onto them with his right hand.
However, the officer told the investigator that, at that point, he was in fear for his life, according to Dean.
“He said that he was extremely fearful, that he thought the actual contact, the arrest was escalating. He felt that his life and his partner’s life was in jeopardy,” Dean said, adding that Clark told him he was “terrified” in that moment.
“He kept saying that he thought she was going to do something, and the family, that they were—basically, he thought they were going to die out there that night.”
JPX Pepper Spray Deployment
That’s when the officer apparently decided to fire his JPX device, which uses a “wafer” of gunpowder to shoot out a stream of pepper spray at a speed of more than 400 mph, the district attorney’s office has said.
Testimony from JPX experts indicates that the device be used from a distance no closer than 1.5 meters, or approximately 5 feet. However, the district attorney's office has said that the device was fired in this case from about 6-10 inches away from Hernandez's face.
“It instantly was painful,” Hernandez said, describing the sensation she felt when sprayed. “I believe I screamed or cried. I instantly saw a bright white light, and I couldn’t see. I instantly peed in my pants. I felt like I couldn’t really function or move my body. I just kind of felt stunned, you know, like in shock.”
After her arrest, Hernandez was taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in San Bernardino to have her eyes treated.
“The right eye was ruptured, meaning it was split, or lacerated, in half,” said Dr. Keith Tokuhara, who began treating Hernandez the day after she was injured. “…and then there was severe optic nerve damage to at least the left eye that we could tell.”
The doctor told the grand jury that Hernandez could not—and still cannot—see even the brightest light shined into her eyes, and that she likely never will again.
What’s more, Tokuhara said was so severe—pepper spray particles were found deep behind her eye.
“…In the deeper tissue, during surgery we could express fine droplets of oil particles that was the pepper spray,” he said.
Though it has now been nearly three months since the blinding incident occurred, the legal process is still in the early phases.
Clark, who remains on administrative leave from the Beaumont Police Department, is due to appear in court on May 29 at a trial readiness conference, according to Riverside County District Attorney Spokesman John Hall.
Clark is represented by Lackie, Dammeier & McGill, a firm that solely represents police officers, and his attorney of record is Kasey A. Castillo.
Castillo told Banning-Beaumont Patch that her client maintains his innocence in this case, and pointed out that just because a grand jury has indicted him, that “is a very different standard of proof than that which is necessary for a conviction.”
“Officer Clark maintains his innocence andthe complete picture will be presented to the jury,” Castillo said. “As you can imagine, his perspective is quite different than that of Ms. Hernandez.”
On April 26, Clark was arraigned on four counts: assault under the color or authority, assault with a less lethal weapon, use of force causing serious bodily injury, and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury. There is also an enhancement that he personally inflicted great bodily injury.