Denver cops’ shooting of 17yo girl in car ruled ‘justified’

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Two police officers who shot and killed 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez in January, were “legally justified,” Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey found. There will be no criminal charges in the case, ruled a defensive shooting.

Hernandez was killed on January 26, while attempting to drive away from an alley in a green Honda Civic that was reported stolen the night before. Officer Gabriel Jordan, who testified that he was about to be pinned between the car and the fence, opened fire. At that point, Officer Daniel Greene started shooting at well.

"The facts show this was a defensive shooting by both officers,” DA Morrissey wrote in a 44-page letter to Denver Police Chief Robert White. “Their decisions to shoot Ms. Hernandez were justifiable in light of the manner in which she drove the car in close and dangerous proximity to them, threatening the life of Officer Jordan who had little room to avoid the car."

“I know this shooting has affected the Denver community and that the death of this young woman will forever impact her mother and father, family members and friends,” Morrissey wrote. “I have met with the parents of Ms. Hernandez and have expressed my sympathy to them for their tragic loss.”

However, he added, facts of the case pointed to the conclusion that it was a justified action by the two officers, and that criminal charges would not be appropriate.

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, called Morrissey's decision part of a “disturbingly predictable pattern” of refusing to indict officers who kill people on the job, and questioned the district attorney's objectivity.

"We're sickened and saddened by the decision to exonerate the officers," said Lisa Calderon, co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum's Denver chapter. "But we're not surprised."

Four other teenagers inside the car were not injured. They were “inconsistent in recounting their activities during the night and early morning,” Morrissey noted, though three of them agreed that Hernandez had consumed both alcohol and marijuana.

Morrissey’s letter quotes transcripts of the police interviews with the teenagers, which indicate that Hernandez and her passengers panicked and attempted to drive away, but found their path blocked by the officers.

I was like, ‘Drive, Jessie, drive. Go!’ Like, everybody was screaming at her to go,” one of the teenagers told the investigators.

READ MORE: Mother of 17yo Denver girl slain by police demands independent autopsy

One witness, who lived in the neighborhood and came down into the alley after hearing shouts, said she saw one officer “bounce off” the car, followed by gunshots.

Denver police adopted the policy of non-confrontation following a wave of protests against police brutality around the country, which began last summer after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and the choking of Eric Garner in New York City.

Protesters picketed the police headquarters on several occasions, going so far as to vandalize a police memorial outside. Though angry officers demanded Chief White’s resignation following that incident, Denver authorities praised the department’s conduct as an example to other cities in how to deal with protests.