DENVER — 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.
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.
The girl’s cousin, Jose Castaneda, said he was frustrated and didn’t want to wait months to find out what happened.
“Let me ask you one question, how would you feel if it was your kid?” he yelled before storming away.
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 neighborhood 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.
Police said in a statement that the two officers then “approached the vehicle on foot when the driver drove the car into one of the officers.”
Both officers then opened fire. One was treated and released from a hospital for a leg injury. Department spokesman Sonny Jackson wouldn’t elaborate on the officer’s injury or comment further about the case.
The medical examiner said Hernandez was shot multiple times but did not release further details.
Bobbie Diaz, the mother of a 16-year-old girl in the car, criticized the way police handled Hernandez after the shooting, saying officers pulled her from the car and handcuffed her even after she was motionless.
Diaz said she was lying in bed when she heard four gunshots followed by an officer yelling, “Freeze! Get out of the car! Get down!”
Diaz said she came outside to see officers with their guns drawn pulling people out of the car, including Hernandez.
“She seemed like she was not responding, not moving,” Diaz said. “They just yanked her out and handcuffed her.”
Meanwhile, Diaz said, she heard another person screaming, “She’s dead! She’s dead!”
A shrine of red and white flowers and candles, and a white teddy bear marked the shooting scene on Tuesday.
By law, police are allowed to use force to stop and overcome the resistance of another person. They can use it to match the force and overcome it.
Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.