Natural causes believed in death of 12-year GPD veteran found
Gilroy – The flags at Gilroy Police station flew at half staff Monday in honor of officer Ray Hernandez, 39, who died unexpectedly Sunday night at his Gilroy home.
Hernandez was the fifth most senior officer in the Gilroy Police Department and the loss of his presence is already felt through the halls of the station. Eyes are red from tears and lack of sleep. Phones ring, but minds are elsewhere. For many, it’s like having a family member stricken.
“He certainly gave everyone a lift when he was around,” said Chief Greg Giusiana. “He was very willing to be the butt of a joke or inflict the joke on someone else – but he had a smile on his face either way.”
Hernandez joined GPD 12 years ago and was one of the original Anti-Crime Team investigators, helping to form and solidify the gang unit.
“He was very proud of getting the streets safer as a part of that team,” Giusiana said.
As a member of the Mounted Enforcement Unit, the Special Operations Group, Hernandez had recently purchased a Doberman pinscher puppy to train to join the K9 team.
“He was a little bit of a diamond in the rough when we hired him, there was just something about him,” Giusiana said. “On behalf of the department, we want to send our condolences to his family. We don’t want to forget them.”
Hernandez was found unconscious by his girlfriend about 8:45pm. He had been getting ready to go to work for the evening. Police officers tried performing CPR on their colleague and friend until fire and paramedics arrived. He was transported to Saint Louise Regional Hospital where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of his death – however – it appears he died of natural causes, police officials said.
Hernandez is survived by his son, Jaymes, 17, and two daughters, Raven 7, and Kiara, 4.
Many members of GPD are still in shock from the news.
“It’s just hard to accept it right now,” said Assistant Chief Lanny Brown. “I want to see Ray walk down the halls and pop his head in. I want that, but I know that’s not going to happen … I crossed paths with him Saturday driving his Jeep. That’s my last memory of him – one of those mutual acknowledgments with someone you know and appreciate.”
Hernandez grew up in Watsonville where his mother and four siblings still live. He could relate to the gangsters he encountered on the job because that lifestyle was a part of the neighborhood he lived in. But Hernandez stayed out of trouble, and joined the Army Airborne Rangers where he served for about three years before he was discharged and became a police officer.
He brought street and life experience to the table.
“Those were the things we saw in him that would make a good police officer – and he was,” Giusiana said.
When Hernandez first started, navigating Gilroy was sometimes problematic. He could jump out of airplanes into the wilderness with nothing but a topographical map and find his way back, but when handed a street map he got lost, Giusiana laughed.
He often helped train new police officers and his demeanor had a calming effect on those around him – especially in critical situations – that brought people together.
Hernandez often got teased during SWAT practice for not having the best aim.
“But when it came time to get down to business, he was one of those guys who could hit every shot,” said Sgt. Kurt Svardal. “He was a silent leader from the standpoint of the younger officers. They knew he did a good job and they respected him.”
Hernandez could talk to anyone. He had a gift for interacting with the criminal element and a gift for talking to the 90-year-old woman.
And he didn’t have to say a word to convey a feeling. Wearing a bandana tied around his head, dark shades and even darker eyebrows during the World Swat Championships – Hernandez could look fierce. But a simple change of expression could transform him from intimidating to a teddy bear.
Scorpion tattoos decorated his hands, while a smile softened his face.
When Hernandez walked past Assistant Chief Brown in the hallways the two would often engage in friendly banter – “exchanging pleasantries about our mutual ugliness,” Brown said laughing. “That was our little dance we’d regularly do.”
He liked collecting knives and riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“He wanted to be a little different from the average guy. He liked to stand out,” Svardal said. “Like to join the K9 unit – he bought a Doberman puppy, we have (German) shepherds.”
When recalling stories about Ray Hernandez, smiles appeared on people’s faces. Whether it was faking out a young police officer with a statue mountain lion or accidentally hitting a man during a pursuit on his first month on the job, inevitably the response was – “That was so Ray.”
“He was the type of guy who really made something of himself and he was real proud of that,” Svardal said.