LAPD Officer Who Killed Man in Mental Health Crisis Is a Gun-Toting Social Media Star
In late April, officer Toni McBride shot Daniel Hernandez to death after a suicide call. His attorney and grieving family say videos posted on social media of McBride gleefully firing high-powered weapons show that she’s a trigger-happy officer.
Just after 5:30 p.m. on April 22, Los Angeles Police Department Officer Toni McBride approached the scene of a car accident in the city’s Newton patrol area. A 911 caller had reported that the man who caused the crash was possibly suicidal and cutting himself in the street. McBride, 23, and other officers arrived on-scene and found Daniel Hernandez looking dazed, wandering through traffic, and holding an object by his side. In footage from her body camera, Hernandez appeared to be standing at a safe distance of about 30 feet from McBride. McBride then ordered Hernandez to “drop the knife”—and later fired six shots, killing him. The “knife,” however, turned out to be a box cutter.
According to video and documents reviewed by The Appeal, McBride—who is the subject of a federal lawsuit over the Hernandez killing—was no ordinary street cop. For the better part of the last year, McBride—daughter of Los Angeles Police Protective League union board member Jamie McBride—has appeared in videos posted on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube in which she fires high-powered weaponry at a California ranch owned by Taran Butler, who may be the premier firearms trainer in Hollywood.
Butler has provided weapons training to some of America’s biggest film and TV stars, including Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Butler also trained multiple cast members of the “John Wick” action series, in which Keanu Reeves shoots a staggering number of people to death over its three installments. Like Butler, McBride’s father Jamie has deep Hollywood connections: his many acting credits include CSI.
The videos, which show McBride firing handguns and semi-automatic rifles into dummies and human-shaped targets, have enraged local police-reform activists and Hernandez’s family.
While the LAPD told The Appeal last week that it does not “monitor the activity of officers outside of their employment,” Narine Mkrtchyan, the lawyer representing Hernandez’s teenage daughter in a federal civil suit against McBride and the LAPD, says that Hernandez’s family is begging for the department to change its rules to prevent other officers from receiving similar training.
“I don’t think a peace officer should be glorifying guns and violence like this,” Mkrtchyan told The Appeal. “The way she rejoices at these shooting ranges—I think it shows a very immature police officer.” She added: “We really think LAPD should discipline her. If it wasn’t for her trigger happiness, I don’t think this would have happened. The LAPD should reconsider its policies and amend them.”
Neither Butler nor lawyers for McBride responded to requests for comment from The Appeal. Spokespeople for the LAPD said they “cannot release any information” about the killing of Hernandez because the investigation “is still ongoing.”
In the months since McBride shot Hernandez to death, criminal legal reform advocates have noted that the videos seem to exemplify the backward priorities of many officers, who spend countless hours training to kill people while engaging in comparatively little time learning techniques to keep them alive. They added that police are particularly ill-equipped to handle mental health crises like the suicide call that led to Hernandez’s death. In a June 26 op-ed for the Washington Post, Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and the author of “The End of Policing,” wrote that, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, between 25 and 50 percent of all people killed by police in the U.S. are experiencing a mental health crisis despite millions being poured into police training on mental health issues.
Some police, meanwhile, receive “Warrior Training” that primes them to kill people and act like the military. After it was revealed that the Minnesota police officer who killed driver Philando Castile in 2016 attended a warrior-style training event, the Minneapolis Police Department banned it in 2019. (The ban, however, did not stop Minneapolis Police Union President Bob Kroll from continuing to offer the training to his union members.)
University of South Carolina Law Professor Seth W. Stoughton, a former Tallahassee Police Department officer who is now a critic of the “warrior” training model, told The Appeal that while it is common for officers to shoot competitively or practice at gun ranges, it’s unusual for an officer to so gleefully boast about firing guns on social media or post videos with Hollywood stars. He said he’d be “amazed” if Hernandez’s family did not use the clips to portray McBride as a trigger-happy cop.
“An officer’s exuberance about their hobbies should not translate into an inappropriate desire to use those hobbies on the job,” he said. “I’m not necessarily saying that’s what happened in this case, but I think there is an appearance of that that this might create.”
Los Angeles residents also seem fed up with the LAPD’s infamous history of treating poor, Black people like enemy combatants in a war zone. On June 19, the LAPD confirmed McBride is back out on patrol while the investigation into the shooting remains open.
On June 24, protesters gathered at Los Angeles’s Hall of Justice to demand the resignation of District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Since taking office in 2012, Lacey has not charged a single LAPD officer for a shooting. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles has estimated that over 400 people were killed by law enforcement or died in the four years after Lacey took office. Lacey, however, recently signed a letter addressed to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra supporting the idea of a task force to investigate police shootings. “The purpose of this task force is to further strengthen police departments to be transparent, objective, and accountable in their practices,” the letter, signed by Lacey, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva, and other high-profile law enforcement figures, said.
Also on June 24, Los Angeles District Attorney candidate and former LAPD Assistant Chief George Gascón asked Becerra to take over the Hernandez shooting investigation, since McBride’s father sits on the LAPPL board.
“Any investigation by the LAPD and charging decision by the District Attorney will be so severely tainted that the public would be justified in questioning its motivations and validity,” Gascón wrote in a press release.
Butler—a stout, bearded man who also sells firearms—got into trouble earlier this year after video emerged of him speaking in sexually explicit language to one of the young, gun-toting women on his shooting team who he sometimes refers to as “angels.” In the clip, Butler asks model Jade Struck if she likes to have sex with Black men, and if she’ll flash her vagina, which he calls her “precious.” In May, “Los Angeles” magazine wrote that Butler initially apologized online, only to delete his apology and hurl insults at Struck online. In the same story, published weeks after McBride killed Hernandez, “Los Angeles” referred to Butler as a “cheerful LAPD officer” who was part of Butler’s crew of young, attractive, gun-toting women.
In one clip from Butler’s ranch, someone behind the camera—likely Butler—does an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression as McBride jumps out of a safe, pointing what appears to be a prop gun directly at the camera. The video then cuts to McBride firing an actual MP5 semi-automatic rifle into a moving dummy target.
“That was fun,” she says. “OK, that’s my new favorite gun.”
In other clips, McBride pals around with Keanu Reeves, provides weapons training to people, and, in perhaps the most damning video, fires guns while wearing a shirt adorned with a skull that says “Shootin’ Newton,” a nickname officers use to describe the area in which they serve because of of the high number of shootings there. (LAPD spokespeople did not say whether the department will discipline McBride for the shirt.) Incredibly, about one week after McBride killed Hernandez, Newton Division officers shot and killed another man named Daniel Hernandez. The LAPD said officers shot Hernandez after they say they tailed Hernandez’s car into an alley. They then shot him to death as he tried to flee on-foot.
McBride also has repeatedly appeared in promotional materials for firearms-accessory dealers and other companies. On December 2, the clothing and accessory company 5.11 Tactical bragged that McBride was “staying warm in our 5.11 Avery Half Zip” sweater while firing a handgun into human-shaped targets at Butler’s facility. In June, McBride appeared as a “model” for the “Blue Press,” a weapons accessory and ammunition catalog published by the Scottsdale, Arizona-based shooting supply store Dillon Precision. The catalog almost exclusively publishes photos of young, female models with guns on its cover.
The LAPD told The Appeal that officers are barred from receiving any outside sponsorships based on their employment, but did not answer follow-up questions asking if McBride’s modeling appearances violated departmental rules. A spokesperson for 5.11 Tactical said that, while the company is “aware that Officer McBride is a fan of the 5.11 brand,” she was not paid for the post, and the company has no formal relationship with her. (Dillon Precision did not respond to a message from The Appeal.)
Mkrtchyan, the lawyer for Hernandez’s family, says she plans to play the videos in court as the family’s lawsuit against McBride progresses.
“We will use this stuff effectively against her to impeach her credibility,” Mkrchyan said. “She looks like a person who’s immature, who’s acting like a social-media star, and who’s not projecting a good image of a police officer. I don’t think police officers should love guns to that extent or should enjoy shooting people.”
In a clip published just 20 days before McBride killed Hernandez, Butler gifts McBride with a custom-made Glock 17L, a variant of a gun that appeared on the latest version of the “Hawaii Five-O” TV series. McBride beams as she examines the weapon.
“Let’s go shoot it!” she begs.