Zhakyra Cousin, center, Shia Brooks, left, and Markeesha McDade, right, during a Feb. 19, 2015 community vigil held in honor of Jessica Hernandez.
Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty

Denver police shooting death of teenager ruled a homicide


The Medical Examiner’s office in Denver, Colorado, is ruling the death of a 17-year-old female teenager who was shot and killed by police as a homicide.

The report, released on Friday, states that Jessica Hernandez had four gunshot wounds at the time of her death on January 26th. Police say Hernandez was driving a stolen car toward a Denver police officer when that officer and another opened fire on the vehicle. Hernandez was struck twice through the left side of her chest, once in her pelvis, and once on her right thigh, according to the Medical Examiner’s report.

One of the two bullets passing through Hernandez’s chest struck her in both lungs and her heart. In the document, Denver’s Chief Medical Examiner/Coroner, Dr. James L. Caruso, concludes “With the information available to me at this time, the manner of death, in my opinion, is homicide.”

“The Denver District Attorney has not prosecuted a police shooting case since 1992.”
Statement from the Hernandez family's lawyer
In a statement to NBC News, the family’s attorney said, “The report shows that Jessie was shot from the driver’s side of the car and not from close range. These facts undermine the Denver Police Department’s claim that Jessie was driving at the officers as they shot her.”

The family is also renewing their call for an independent federal investigation into the teenager’s death, and the lawyer’s statement claims, “The Denver District Attorney has not prosecuted a police shooting case since 1992.”

The Medical Examiner’s report also states that Hernandez had both marijuana and a negligible amount of alcohol in her system when she died.

The death of Jessica Hernandez has caused protests against police and vigils in the community. A friend and schoolmate of the teen told NBC News last month, ”We’re angry about it. It’s another life taken by another cop.”

But retired Colorado police chief, Dan Montgomery – who is also a use-of-force expert – cautioned against using this report to make any iron-clad conclusions in the case. Montgomery told the Associated Press, ”It’s like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together, and we’ve got two tiny little pieces right now.”

The police account of events is reportedly being contested by one of the other passengers who was in the car when police shot and killed Hernandez. Speaking anonymously, a person identified as one of the passengers told the Associated Press that officers approached the vehicle from the back, did not give any verbal commands, and fired their weapons four times into the driver’s-side window. The Associated Press reports that this person identified as a witness said that the car may have struck one of the officers only after Hernandez was shot and lost control.

The Denver Police Department has previously said that two officers, Gabriel Jordan and Daniel Greene, found the stolen car in an alley with Hernandez behind the wheel and four others inside. According to police, the officers gave several verbal commands telling the teens to get out of the vehicle and fired only after Hernandez sped towards them.

The family’s lawyer claims after Hernandez was shot, “She was then dragged out of the car, dropped onto the ground, and handcuffed.” Witness accounts back up these claims, according to the Associated Press.

A call to the Denver Police Department by msnbc was answered, but a representative for the police said it would be “inappropriate” to comment at this time.