Decorated Vet Denied Police Badge

Old gun conviction disrupts Afghanistan combat vet's dream of joining NYPD.

January 04, 2009, 5:26 PM

Jan. 4, 2009 -- Before Specialist Osvaldo Hernandez was a decorated soldier in the U.S. Army, he was caught with a weapon he had no business carrying.

In 2002, when he was 20 years old, Hernandez was stopped by police who found a semi-automatic handgun under the seat of his car. Hernandez said he had the gun for his personal safety.

"I came from a fairly rough environment and honestly at that time I just felt it would be good to have some kind of protection," said Hernandez.

Illegal possession of a weapon is a felony, and for his crime he served eight months in prison at Rikers Island in New York.

After his release, Hernandez joined the army, serving 15 months in Afghanistan as a member of an elite paratrooper division. He risked his life, and saw buddies lose theirs.

"Its honestly one of the most hazardous zones in all of Afghanistan … to this day," said Hernandez.

As a soldier, Hernandez was awarded numerous citations and medals. His former commanding officer wrote a glowing recommendation calling Hernandez, among other things, "one of the best" with "tremendous leadership ability" and "an outstanding asset to any organization he becomes a part of."

The organization that Hernandez wanted to become a part of was the New York City Police Department, the same force which had him arrested six years earlier.

He took the NYPD written test in June and did very well on it, but in New York, former felons can not join the police force by department policy.

"All I ask is you give me the opportunity to serve New York City, the way I served in the United States Army, I served my country with honor, dignity and respect," said Hernandez.

When two former paratroopers heard his story, they went to work on his behalf for free.

"As far as I'm concerned I'm still a soldier and we don't leave anyone behind," said Jim Harmon, who is also a former prosecutor.

Harmon enlisted the help of Randy Jurgensen, a former NYC detective.

"When the phone rang eight or nine months ago and Jim said we got a brother paratrooper asking for help … I said I'm in."

Together, they've gotten the courts to give Hernandez back his right to carry a gun. They say that should make him eligible to serve on the force. They have even gotten the support of the judge who put Hernandez away back in 2002, who said that Hernandez had "rehabilitated himself in epic terms."

"The message to others should be that truly, people do change. I made a mistake, I paid for that mistake and I moved on with my life," said Hernandez.

But senior officials in the police department tell ABC News that it's unlikely to make a difference. The ban on convicted felons, they say, cannot be bent for fear of the slippery slope it may create.

Hernandez said he should be judged as an individual on his actions and not looked upon as just the category of a felon. "Let me be judged as a man, like every other man is judged," said Hernandez.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, a veteran Marine, has yet to comment on the matter. Hernandez says that if he can't join the police force, he'll try to find an alternate way to serve his community.

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