Denver police will no longer shoot at moving vehicles — unless fired upon themselves — after doing so led to the death of a 17-year-old Latina driver, sparking community outcry and a federal investigation.
The policy change is in line with Department of Justice recommendations that officers not shoot at moving cars. The new rules say officers should move out of the way, and that staying in the path of a vehicle is not a justification for opening fire.
The new rules also say that shooting at a moving vehicle may do very little in stopping a suspect, and that disabling a driver may result in an uncontrolled vehicle.
Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the Colorado chapter of the ACLU, welcomed the change, saying the modifications no longer allow officers to consider a vehicle a weapon in order to justify firing at the driver.
"It is unfortunate that it took four officer-involved shootings at moving vehicles in less than a year," Woodliff-Stanley said in a statement, "including the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Jessie Hernandez, for the Denver Police Department to finally make this change."
Activists called for changes to the guidelines after the police-involved shooting of Hernandez in January. Denver police, investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle, approached the car on foot. The department said officers opened fire after Hernandez drove the car into one of them, striking him in the leg.
One of the four other passengers in the car, however, disputed the police account and said the officer was hit only after Hernandez was shot. Trina Diaz told BuzzFeed News the officers were on each side of the car when the first shots rang out.
An autopsy found she had two wounds to the left side of her chest, another on her right thigh and one to the pelvis. Attorneys for the Hernandez family said the report shows she was shot from the driver's side, contradicting police statements that she was driving at officers when they fired.
On Friday, the city's district attorney's office said the two officers — Gabriel Jordan and Daniel Greene — were justified in the shooting and that no criminal charges will be filed against them.
The Denver Police Department and attorneys for the Hernandez family did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Despite the changes, the guidelines acknowledge that every situation is different and any deviations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Denver isn't the only major police department to change its policies on shooting at moving vehicles to be more in line with the Department of Justice. Albuquerque Police Department told its officers to stop shooting at moving cars after the civil rights division of the Department of Justice determined that it engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive force. Cleveland police also changed moving vehicle policies shortly before the DOJ made similar findings.
Customs and Border Patrol agents have also been criticized over shootings that involve immigrants in moving vehicles.