Tensions Rise Between Police and Community In Denver Where Teen Was Shot and Killed While Driving Stolen Car


Friends and family are planning to gather for the funeral of a 17-year-old girl shot to death by Denver police officers.

A funeral Mass for Jessica Hernandez will be held Saturday at a church north of Denver, near where she grew up.

Police say Hernandez was shot Jan. 16 after she drove a stolen car toward an officer in a residential alley in Denver. Police Chief Robert White has said officers repeatedly told Hernandez and four other teens to get out of the vehicle before two officers opened fire.

A teen passenger in the car who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns has disputed the official account, saying Hernandez lost control of the vehicle because she had already been shot and was unconscious. The passenger also said the officers did not yell commands until after the shots were fired.

The shooting sparked angry protests and came amid a national debate about police use of force fueled by racially charged episodes in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. Hernandez’s family and others have called for an outside prosecutor to investigate what happened.

“I want another autopsy on my daughter so we can know how much damage they did,” Hernandez said last week, speaking inside the trailer home where her daughter lived with five siblings. “I want to know, how did this happen? I want to know everything.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that officers may not use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect unless the person is believed to pose significant physical harm. Still, policies vary among agencies, and some departments have banned or discouraged the practice.

The Albuquerque Police Department, for example, ordered officers in June to stop shooting at moving vehicles after a Justice Department report found a pattern of excessive force.

On Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock canceled a speech to a gay rights conference because of protests at the event over the shooting. District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office has promised a thorough investigation and has asked protesters for patience. But Hernandez’s relatives say they don’t trust the office to do a fair and timely investigation, and that the department has a history of exonerating its officers.

SOURCE: Sadie Gurman
Associated Press

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