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LAPD investigates delay in help for TSA worker

Published: Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 11:31 p.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES – An airport police union spokesman said Friday that medical attention for a Transportation Security Administration officer shot by a gunman was delayed because a Los Angeles Police Department officer told other responders the man was dead.

LAPD said it would investigate whether the veteran officer hindered efforts to rescue TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez, who lay on the floor helplessly bleeding for 33 minutes after a Nov. 1 shooting attack at Los Angeles International Airport.

The investigation, which is routine any time allegations are made about an officer, will be conducted in addition to a review of whether paramedics were kept too long from Terminal 3 to attend to victims after suspect Paul Ciancia had been shot and taken into custody.

Ciancia could face the death penalty if convicted of a federal murder charge. He is accused of targeting TSA workers in a vendetta against the federal government, shooting Hernandez, two other TSA workers and a teacher with an assault rifle. He remains hospitalized.

Hernandez bled about 20 feet from an exit as ambulances and rescue workers gathered nearby waiting for commanders to determine the chaotic scene was safe enough to enter, according to two law enforcement officials, who were briefed on the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity because an investigation was ongoing.

Formal conclusions could take months, but what’s known raises the possibility that a lack of coordination between police and fire officials prevented speedy treatment for Hernandez and other victims.

Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, raised the possibility Friday that the actions by Officer John Long also delayed help for Hernandez.

Police broadcast over their radios that a suspect was in custody at 9:25 a.m., five minutes after Hernandez was shot in the chest. That’s when Long checked on Hernandez several times, repeatedly telling officers who came by from various agencies that he was dead, according to one of the law enforcement officials.

Officers from multiple agencies bent down to check on Hernandez before moving on; no officers rendered first aid on scene, according to surveillance video reviewed by the officials.

Airport police who came to check on Hernandez after attending to other victims were told by Long, “’he’s dead,’” McClain said.

“’What do you mean he’s dead?’” an airport officer replied, according to McClain. “’If he’s dead, whatever, we can’t make that determination.’”

After the airport officer found what he thought was a faint pulse, he took Hernandez in a wheelchair to an ambulance, said McClain, who gathered his account by talking to the airport officers involved.

Hernandez arrived at a hospital with no signs of life and was declared dead after doctors tried for about an hour to revive him.

It’s not known when Hernandez died or if immediate medical attention could have saved his life, but McClain said unless a person is decapitated, a doctor must declare someone dead.

It’s also unclear how the officer determined Hernandez was dead or if he was qualified to do so. Long refused to comment.

“Anytime anybody makes an allegation against one of our officers we have to investigate it, so of course we’ll look into it,” said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, the department spokesman.

Because police are often the first at the scene where there are injuries, California law requires officers receive first aid and CPR training in the academy and regular refreshers afterward.

A recent audit by Los Angeles Police Commission Inspector General Alex Bustamante found that the LAPD had a zero percent compliance rate. Only 250-sworn officers in the Metropolitan Division out of the department’s more than 9,900 sworn officers received the refresher training, it states. Long is not an officer in the Metropolitan Division. Airport police have the training.

The head of the TSA union on Friday said he was appalled it took 33 minutes to get Hernandez aid. American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox Sr. called the situation “very concerning” and said there should be a serious re-examination of TSA security policies.

McClain said the incident highlighted a coordination failure and a power struggle between policing agencies.

Representatives of the LAPD, Los Angeles Fire Department and airport police said they couldn’t comment on the investigation into the delay in the declaring the airport safe for rescuers until extensive reports are finished.

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