The shooting of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez by two Denver police officers has been ruled a homicide by the county coroner — a ruling that conflicts with police statements made just days earlier.
According to the New York Daily News, Hernandez’s autopsy showed she had been smoking marijuana, and drank a small amount of alcohol, before being confronted by Denver police officers for driving a stolen car. The amount of alcohol in her system was “negligible,” the autopsy said — nowhere near a blood alcohol content of .08, the lowest threshold to be considered driving under the influence.
Four of the gunshots fired by Officers Daniel Greene and Gabriel Jordan through the car’s driver’s side window hit Hernandez, reaching her heart and lung, the autopsy report stated. A fifth bullet hit her hip and thigh.
The autopsy’s findings contradict the police department’s statement, which maintained that Hernandez had been speeding at one of the officers, prompting them to shoot. Police said they gave several verbal commands to the four other teens in the vehicle, telling them to get out of the car.
One of the passengers in the car, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the officers came up on the car from behind in an alley and fired into the driver’s side window without yelling out any commands, according to the Huffington Post.
A lawyer for Hernandez’s family alleges that she was “dragged out of the car, dropped onto the ground, and handcuffed,” a claim validated by witness accounts.
Dan Montgomery, a retired Colorado police chief, explained that it’s difficult to draw concrete conclusions about whether or not the officers were acting out of line from the autopsy report alone.
“It’s like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together, and we’ve got two tiny little pieces right now,” Montgomery said. “More are going to start coming into place.”
Protests against police brutality erupted in Denver in the wake of this news, and Hernandez’s family has requested an independent autopsy in addition to renewing their call for a federal investigation into her death.