Latina Teen Shot And Killed By Denver Cops Leads To Questions, Anger
Jessica "Jessie" Hernandez was fatally shot by Denver police after a confrontation Monday morning. Law enforcement and community members question the police's decision to shoot at the car she was driving.
Community organizers and law enforcement experts are questioning the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old girl in Denver, specifically their decision to fire into the car she was driving.
Jessica "Jessie" Hernandez was killed Monday in a confrontation with police who were responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle. Two officers approached the car on foot after they determined it was reported stolen, the Denver Police Department said in a statement.
Authorities said Hernandez drove the car, which had four other teens inside it, into one of the officers and struck him on the leg. Both officers then fired and shot Hernandez multiple times, she was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.
An autopsy determined that Hernandez was struck multiple times and ruled her death a homicide.
Elisabeth Epps, a community member who has been vocal about excessive police force, said there has to be a high standard for police officers to justify shooting into a car with multiple teenagers.
"That standard can't be, 'She was going to hit the cop,'" Epps said. "It feels like we're all trying to defend why Jessie deserved to live, instead of making the officers defend why they had to kill her."
Richard Lichten, a former law enforcement official in Los Angeles and police practices expert, said officers are trained not to stand or position themselves in front of cars. They're also instructed to get out of the way if at all possible from a moving car.
"Shooting at a moving vehicle is problematic to begin with because if the person behind the vehicle is shot then you have a 2,000 pound missile out of control," Lichten said.
Simply because a police officer states they feared for their life doesn't make it so, Lichten said. The fear has to be based on evidence such as distance and positioning.
"In a case like this it's going to be months before all of the evidence is in," Lichten said.
The Denver Police Department policies state that firing at a moving vehicle may have very little impact on stopping the car. A disabled driver could result in an uncontrolled car and the likelihood of injury to occupants.
Officers are instructed to move out of the way if possible rather than shooting at a car, the policy said. The policy says police officers should only shoot if the vehicle poses an immediate threat of death or serious injury, or if there are no other options.
"Above all, the safety of the public and the officer must be the overriding concern when the use of force is considered," the policy said.
The Denver Police Department declined a BuzzFeed News request for comment on the officer's decision to shoot at a moving car and said it was "part of the ongoing investigation."
The Denver Police Department, Denver District Attorney and the Office of the Independent Monitor were investigating the shooting.
Community members were also demanding that Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey assign an independent prosecutor to investigate the shooting.
Dom Barrera, a community organizer with Denver Freedom Riders, said a special prosecutor would help appease their transparency and fairness concerns.
"We already know that in the past police officers have gotten preferential treatment," Barrera said. "It just seems like every time an officer feels threatened they automatically shoot to kill."
Denver Freedom Riders and other groups had also held a rally for Hernandez Monday night.
Participants held signs that read, "Cowards shoot girls" and "Girls' lives matter too." A riff off "Black Lives Matter" after the police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.
Barrera said there were people who said it was unnecessary to fatally shoot a 17-year-old girl. Others agreed that a car barreling towards them likely threatened the officers.
Hacker group Anonymous also jumped into the fray on Twitter, calling the shooting a murder.
The two officers involved in the shooting have not been identified and have been placed on administrative leave per department protocol.
Brianna Diaz, told the Denver Post that her 16-year-old sister was a passenger in the car. Diaz's home backs up into the alley where the shooting occurred.
Diaz said her mother ran out of their home after the shots broke out and was stopped by a police officer who grabbed her and tried to calm her down.
"My mom told me to start filming, but when I took out my phone, the cop was like, 'Don't you dare!' " Diaz told the Denver Post.
Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor has launched an investigation into police officers shooting at moving vehicles.
Denver's independent monitor, Nicholas Mitchell, said his office would be looking at the police department's policies, practices, and training.
"Shootings involving moving vehicles pose unique potential safety risks to both officers and the community," Mitchell said in a statement. "I look forward to collaborating with the [Denver Police Department] and the community, and reporting back on this effort."
In the last seven months there have been four officer-involved shootings during which Denver police have shot at moving vehicles, Mitchell said.