DENVER » An autopsy shows a 17-year-old girl who was killed by Denver police officers while driving a stolen car suffered four gunshot wounds.
In a report released Friday, the Denver medical examiner’s office said Jessica Hernandez also had marijuana and a small amount of alcohol in her system during the Jan. 26 shooting that sparked protests and calls for an outside investigation.
The shooting came during a national debate about police use of force after racially charged killings in Missouri and New York.
Police say two Denver officers fired at Hernandez after she drove toward one of them. The case remains under investigation by the district attorney.
Two bullets entered through the left side of her chest and traveled right through her body. Her family’s attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, said that shows she was shot from the driver’s side of the car.
"These facts undermine Denver Police Department’s claim that Jessie was driving at the officers as they shot her," Mohamedbhai said in a statement. "The wound path and trajectory of the bullet that likely killed Jessica Hernandez undermines the version of events as indicated by the Denver Police Department."
But Dan Montgomery, a retired Colorado police chief and use-of-force expert, cautioned against drawing any conclusions from the autopsy report alone. Other facts to consider include the officers’ positioning, their tactics in approaching the car, whether they put themselves in danger, and what they have to say about what happened, he said.
"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."
The release of the autopsy report is a sign that the investigation is progressing, district attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said, though she could offer no timeline for when the probe would be complete. "The case is still ongoing, and the autopsy is certainly part of that," she said.
The autopsy shows Hernandez suffered gunshot wounds to the torso, pelvis and thigh. But it’s not clear how many times she was shot, as the autopsy notes that two of the wounds might have been caused by a single bullet.
Denver police Chief Robert White has said the officers found Hernandez and four other teenagers inside the stolen car in an alley. White said the officers told the teens several times to get out of the vehicle. Officers Gabriel Jordan and Daniel Greene fired after Hernandez drove toward one of them.
A passenger in the car, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, has disputed the official account, saying officers came up on the car from behind and fired four times into the driver’s-side window.
The passenger also said the officers did not yell any commands before they fired, and that the car may have struck the officer after Hernandez was shot and lost control of the vehicle.
Jordan suffered a leg injury, but White has said it is unclear how he was hurt.
Witnesses said officers pulled Hernandez from the car and handcuffed her even after she was motionless.
Mohamedbhai said abrasions on her face "confirm this inhumane treatment."
"There is now objective evidence contradicting the Denver Police Department’s claims that Jessie was to blame for her own death," he said.
Hernandez’s family has requested an independent autopsy, saying they don’t trust the official investigation.
Denver police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez declined to comment.