By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
TORRANCE — Lena Hernandez pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from an attack on an Asian American woman at the Del Amo Mall in October 2019.
Hernandez, 54, a retired social worker from Long Beach, is known in the local Asian American community for two profanity-laced anti-Asian tirades, captured on video, at Wilson Park in June. However, the Torrance City Attorney’s Office said there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges in those cases.
On July 2, Hernandez was charged with misdemeanor battery in the 2019 case. She was arrested the next day but released from jail a few hours later.
Following a statement by the victim, Kayceelyn Salminao, the judicial officer, Commissioner Brad Fox, sentenced Hernandez to 47 days in jail, 52 anger management sessions and three years of probation. She was ordered to stay away from the mall during that time. She is set to surrender to authorities on Nov. 10.
Hernandez was initially sentenced to 45 days, but when she claimed that she couldn’t pay the court fines (about $1,600), the court added two days of jail time in lieu of the fines.
The prosecutor was Deputy City Attorney Brandon Joseph Gonzaque. Hernandez was represented by a public defender.
The arraignment at the Torrance Courthouse was originally scheduled for Monday at 8:30 a.m., but Hernandez failed to appear. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest, but she showed up at 1:30 p.m., long after the other parties in the case had left, and the arraignment was rescheduled for Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. This time, Hernandez showed up an hour early.
On both days, a small group of protesters held signs, featuring Hernandez’s booking photo, calling for her to be prosecuted for the verbal attacks in Wilson Park, in which the victims were a Filipino American woman and a Japanese man and his two children.
After the hearing, the chanting protesters waited for Hernandez in front of the courthouse, but she was escorted out a back door by two sheriff’s deputies.
Recounting her experience with Hernandez, Salminao said, “I came to the aid of a custodial lady in a Del Amo Mall restroom. She was verbally harassing the custodial lady, and when I came to her defense, that’s when she turned her hate and anger towards me and … shoved me to the ground … She grabbed my hair, pushed my head towards the ground and punched me multiple times in the head.”
Salminao said of the commissioner, “After he heard all the evidence … he agreed with me. He agreed that it was a violent attack on me and he apologized profusely. But at the end of the day, he still gave her a 45-day sentence in county jail.”
Asked if she thinks Hernandez is still capable of violence, Salminao replied, “I wouldn’t doubt it … Earlier this year she’s already been convicted of a violent crime … She’s done it to me, so she’s very capable to do it to another person.”
Hernandez was convicted of battery and served five days in jail in connection with an incident that occurred April 6 in Long Beach. She was also named in a misdemeanor hit-and-run in February in which no one was injured.
Noting that Hernandez could have faced up to six months in jail for the Del Amo attack, Salminao added, “I’m very disappointed because that’s the value on my life, on my case, on all the victims that I’m representing here today and the Asian American community.”
The message that this sends to other people who commit hate crimes is that “they only have to do the bare minimum amount of time,” she said.
Salminao’s attorney, Sandy Roxas, agreed. “This sends a message, and the message is that our safety as Asian Americans, our safety as women of color, our safety as minorities is valued at 45 days.”
Roxas also stressed that the full sentence may not be served. “Due to COVID, due to her claims of being an elderly woman, she will … possibly just do a book-and-release, which is very disheartening … We’re disappointed in the judicial system …
“What is more disturbing is that she is using the services of taxpayer dollars for her defense today … She also claims to be unemployed, but we know she is a retired social worker who is receiving a pension from the county … When she takes her anger management classes, what that means is that the community again, the taxpayers again will be funding and paying for her anger management classes.”
Roxas called on Torrance police and prosecutors to take hate crimes more seriously, pointing out that it took nearly a year for Salminao’s case to be heard in court. “And this is the justice that has been given to her today? This is not justice. We are appalled and upset.”
Although the Wilson Park cases were not prosecuted, Salminao said, “I am coming here to represent them and myself.”
She noted that the videos of Hernandez in the park “triggered what had happened to me … the trauma that I have to deal with … I put that into my statement because it shows how much hate she has in her heart, that she can still go out there, terrorizing Asian Americans, people in my community. She can go anywhere in the country and terrorize anyone just because they’re people of color.”