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Denver officers cleared in shooting of teen who allegedly rammed them with car

2 Denver police officers are cleared in shooting death of 17-year-old girl in stolen car

Two Denver police officers who shot and killed a teenage girl allegedly speeding toward them in a stolen car will not be charged, prosecutors announced Friday.

In a 26-page letter, Denver County Dist. Atty. Mitchell Morrissey said Officers Gabriel Jordan and Daniel Greene were legally justified in shooting 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez in January.

The shooting, which came on the heels of the killings of young minorities in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland, sparked angry protests throughout Colorado's capital city, and quickly became the latest flashpoint in a growing conversation about race and police use of force in the United States.

"These initial reactions were made before the investigation was completed and without knowledge of all of the facts," Morrissey wrote. "Now, if people study and evaluate the facts of this case, and consider my ethical obligations as a prosecutor in bringing criminal charges, they may understand why criminal charges are not appropriate."

Jordan and Greene will remain on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation, which was delayed until the district attorney's office finished its review of the shooting, according to a city police spokesperson. 

The department said in a statement that it will make some documents from the internal review public once the investigation is complete.

In January, police said Hernandez and four other teenagers were cruising through Denver's middle-class Park Hill neighborhood in a stolen Honda on the night of Jan. 25. According to the district attorney's report, the teens fell asleep inside the vehicle, and someone called police to report a suspicious vehicle around 6:30 a.m. the next morning. 

One of the passengers woke up around 7 a.m. and noticed a police car parked nearby. The fatal shots were fired less than two minutes later, according to the district attorney's report.

Police said they ordered the teens to exit the vehicle, and opened fire after Hernandez allegedly tried to ram them. She died a short time later.

Some of the other passengers in the car have said the vehicle only began careening toward the police officers after Hernandez was shot. Witnesses have also said Hernandez was dragged from the car and handcuffed while unconscious and bleeding, and was not given proper medical aid.

But a ballistics analysis and a re-creation of the incident seemed to disprove some parts of those accounts. The trajectory of the officers' shots also showed the car was moving towards them when they opened fire, according to the report.

Jordan told investigators he thought he "was going to die" as the car moved toward him, and remembered firing at the driver's side window, where Hernandez was seated, according to the report. Greene, who was on the other side of the vehicle, also said he feared for Jordan's life when he began shooting.

“I think Officer Jordan -- if he wasn’t able to get out of the way, I think he would have been run over and seriously injured or killed," Jordan told investigators.

The incident marked the fourth time in seven months that Denver police have fired on a moving vehicle, a tactic generally frowned upon by law enforcement experts. Two of those shootings resulted in deaths. 

Shortly after Hernandez was shot, Denver Police Chief Robert White said he would reconsider the department's policy on shooting at vehicles. On Friday, police said in a statement that a review of those policies would be completed later this month. 

Calls to the attorney representing Hernandez's family were also not returned.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT on Twitter for breaking news.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:44 p.m.: This post updated with comments from the Denver Police Department and additional information from the district attorney's report.

1:49 p.m.: This post updated with additional information from the district attorney's repot.

This post published at 12:37 p.m.

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