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Two years later, family of teen killed by Denver police still wants justice

Jessican Hernandez was killed by officers in 2015
Posted at 11:51 PM, Jan 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-27 01:51:54-05

DENVER -- Dozens of friends and relatives gathered Thursday evening to remember a teenager girl on the two-year anniversary of her death by Denver police.

Police say Jessica Hernandez, 17, was shot Jan. 2, 2015, after she drove a stolen car toward an officer in a residential alley in Denver. A passenger in the car disputes the police account and says officers fired first.

"She was just happy and positive about everything, " said Paradise Laclom, a friend who was with Hernandez the night of her death.

Friends remembered her as an outgoing high school student who sought to help others during the Thursday vigil in the alleyway where she was killed.

Hernandez's parents and siblings also attended and held back tears as the crowd honored their daughter.

"The family is continuing to seek justice, they're continuing [to look] for real police reform," said Arash Jahanian, the family's attorney.

"At the end of the day, I'm also Latino and I could be next or one of the people I love could be next," said Maxx Yanez, who also attended the vigil.

Following Hernandez's death, Denver Police did make policy changes and officers are no longer allowed to shoot at moving cars.

"[It's] Something positive that came out of Jessie's death, although it obviously can't bring their daughter back," said Jahanian.

The family's attorney also said DPD's new draft use-of-force policy is a step in the right direction, but the family would like to see it go further.  

"The work is not done and the family obviously wants to keep pushing forward," said Jahanian.

The Department's watchdog agreed. Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell released his preliminary analysis of DPD’s draft use of force policy in a letter to Chief Robert White.

The 10-page report calls out the policy for being "vague" and "poorly defined."

Mitchell points to the section that tells officers they can only use force when it is "reasonable and necessary" based on the circumstances. "This is ambiguous at best," Mitchell stated.

The report also notes that "other departments have provided far clearer explanations."

For example, Mitchell found the Miami Police Department tells its officers they can only use the "minimal amount of force necessary." While the Chicago Police Department's proposed us-of-force policy states officers use only "the least amount" of force that is objectively, reasonable, necessary, and proportional.

Back at the vigil, candles burned as bright as the calls for justice as the community remembered Hernandez and as her family continues to push for real police reform.

"She did get any justice, justice wasn't served," said Laclom. 

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