Nobody expected Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey to indict police officers for killing 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez. Denver, after all, isn’t a city known for taking its use-of-force cases particularly seriously.
In a decision made public today, Morrissey has maintained his perfect record of never prosecuting any law enforcement officers for a use-of-force death.
Even though Morrissey found that neither officer Gabriel Jordan nor officer Daniel Greene was struck by the car Hernandez was driving, he justified their shooting as a way of defending against “the manner in which she drove the car in close and dangerous proximity to them.”
Jordan and Greene fired five and three shots, respectively, at the unarmed 17-year-old in an alley in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood on January 26. The other teens in the car weren’t hit by the officers’ bullets.
Hernandez family lawyer Siddartha Rathod says Morrissey’s letter suggests the car was moving faster than it actually was.
“It comes as no surprise that, once again, Denver’s DA is exonerating the illegal actions of its officers,” Rathod said.
The family will seek justice in the form of a federal civil rights lawsuit – one in a string of them. Last year, the city paid out a $6 million jury-award for the death of Marvin Booker at the hands of sheriff’s deputies at the city jail.
Morrissey’s decision not to indict Jordan and Greene is being slammed today by several civil rights groups who question the DA’s practice of relying on Denver police to investigate its own officers in use of force cases. Most other metropolitan police departments rely on other agencies to review police shootings.
“Beyond the obvious questions about conflict of interest, it is impossible to trust the objectivity of Mr. Morrissey, given that he has not filed a single indictment following an officer-involved shooting during his tenure as District Attorney,” said ACLU executive director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley.
Morrissey’s track record justifying use of force cases is “a disturbingly predictable pattern,” he added.
The ACLU is renewing its call for a federal probe into Denver’s police department, saying the public has “lost its faith in Denver’s ability to hold police accountable in use-of-force cases.”
Morrissey’s decision not to indict comes two weeks after a scathing independent review of Denver’s sheriff’s department found officials virtually ignored most use-of-force incidents.
“What went on after most force incidents really can hardly be called an investigation at all,” one of the consultants who conducted the independent review said in May.
It’s the exception rather than the rule that officers involved in use of force cases — even those who killed Marvin Booker in the case that resulted in the $6 million penalty against the city — are disciplined in Denver.
Lawyers for the Hernandez family question the completeness of Morrissey’s review of their daughter’s case, saying he apparently doesn’t have access to a videotape obtained by some news outlets showing the scene immediately after Hernandez’s shooting.
“If he wanted to do a thorough investigation, you’d assume he’d have obtained that video of what happened just seconds after Jessica was shot,” Rathod said.
As of this writing, a protest of Morrissey’s decision and a vigil for Hernandez are being planned.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr.