DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday promised a thorough investigation and asked angry protesters for patience after police shot and killed a 17-year-old girl who authorities said struck an officer with a stolen car.
The request came after about 20 people rallied outside District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s office and called for a special prosecutor to investigate the Monday death of Jessica Hernandez.
The shooting occurred amid a national debate about police use of force fueled by racially charged episodes in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.
Denver police say two officers opened fire after Hernandez struck one of them with the vehicle, but a passenger who was in the car at the time of the shooting disputed that account late Tuesday. The witness, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Hernandez hit the officer only after she was shot because she was unconscious and lost control of the car.
It was the fourth time in seven months that a Denver police officer fired into a moving vehicle because he perceived it as a threat. That prompted Denver’s independent monitor to announce his own investigation into the department’s policies and practices related to shooting at moving vehicles, which he said poses unique safety risks.
Morrissey wasn’t there during the tense confrontation at his office, where chief deputy district attorneys Doug Jackson and Lamar Sims spoke over shouts and obscenities from some of the protesters.
Jackson said he could not discuss the facts of the case but assured the group that the findings of the investigation will be made public when it’s finished.
“You can decide whether we made the right decision or not,” Jackson said.
Protesters said they don’t trust Morrissey’s office to handle the case because the last time a Denver police officer faced charges in a shooting was 1992.
“We are sick and tired of these kinds of things happening and there seems to be no true objective investigation,” said the Rev Patrick Demmer of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance.
Police released few details about the shooting in a middle-class, residential neighbourhood of Denver. They said Hernandez was one of five people in the stolen car and she drove at a police officer. The four other people in the car were not injured by the gunfire. All were questioned as part of the investigation, but none has been charged.
The shooting happened early Monday after an officer was called to check on a suspicious vehicle. A colleague arrived after the officer determined the car had been reported stolen, Police Chief Robert White said.