It’s been one week since Jessica “Jessie” Hernández, 17, was shot and killed by Denver police. The teenager was driving a car that was reported stolen with at least two friends when she was confronted by officers. She allegedly drove the car toward one of them. Officers responded by firing several shots into the driver’s side of the vehicle, killing Hernández.
The shooting marked the fourth time in seven months that Denver police have fired into a moving vehicle perceived as a threat, even though department policy encourages officers to move out of the way instead of using a firearm in such situations. Hernández’s death also comes amid national outcry over police shootings of unarmed people of color. In Denver, protesters gathered last week to voice their outrage over Hernandez’s death and call for a special prosecutor to look into the case.
Over the weekend, Hernández’s family took that call one step further, saying that they “believe that a federal investigation is the only way to uncover the truth because we have little confidence in the Denver Police Department’s ability to conduct a fair and timely investigation.”
In a statement the teen’s parents, José Hernández and Laura Sonia Rosales, wrote the following:
We are aware of the DPD’s history of conducting lengthy and fruitless investigations that serve only to exonerate its officers. We are dismayed that the DPD has already defended the actions of the officers and blamed our daughter for her own death, even while admitting they have very little information. In recent months, police killings have torn apart communities across this nation, and the unjustified shooting of our daughter is only the latest sign of an issue that requires federal oversight.
We applaud the Denver Independent Monitor’s decision to investigate DPD policies and training, as Jessie is not the only recent victim of a deadly vehicle-related shooting. We urge the DPD to cooperate fully with the Independent Monitor’s investigation as well as any federal investigation that may occur.
We have been overwhelmed by the support of the community as we grieve the loss of our Jessie. Jessie was a beautiful girl who brought love and joy to her family and friends. We want to make sure that Jessie’s death is not in vain and that we can do our part to stop these senseless police killings. We continue to ask for the support of our local and national communities as we pursue justice for our devastating loss.
Read the full statement at Latino Rebels.
The family also wants an independent autopsy conducted. “I want another autopsy on my daughter so we can know how much damage they did,” Laura Sonya Rosales Hernandez, speaking in Spanish to CBS News, said inside the home where her daughter lived with five siblings. “I want to know, how did this happen? I want to know everything.”
The circumstances surrounding the shooting have been called into question.
Denver Police Chief Robert White said as much, telling reporters: “As it related to shooting and vehicles, our officers are directed that we do not shoot into moving vehicles unless their life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger,” White said. “And I will tell you that even if they are in harm’s way for that particular time, if there’s any particular way that they can remove themselves from that dangerous situation they have a responsibility to do that.”
The officers responsible for the shooting have been identified as Gabriel Jordan and Daniel Greene. Witnesses to the shooting later told reporters that neither officer yelled commands before they shot Hernández. “They didn’t have no reason to shoot her. They didn’t even give her a warning, like say, ‘Get out or we’re going to shoot you.’ They just shot her,” one of the girls said. “We didn’t know why we were being harassed by the police, they came for no reason. They didn’t even have their lights up when they pulled up. And she tried to leave and they shot her. That’s when we wrecked and went unconscious, and that’s when supposedly a cop… got hurt.”
Officer Jordan was later taken the hospital with a broken leg, but those same witnesses also dispute whether he was actually injured during the altercation. “That cop wasn’t hurt because when I was on the floor, lying there, I saw that cop standing there and he wasn’t injured,” a witness told CBS News.