June 16, 2015   |   Claire Bernish
June 16, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Denver Police announced a change to their use of force policy that will bring the department up to par with the rest of the country. Yet, the mere necessity for its existence would be head-scratchingly comical—had it not been implemented as the direct result of four police shootings, including two deaths, in seven months.
Moving vehicles, in and of themselves, can no longer be considered a “threat” to DPD officers—meaning, if a vehicle is bearing down on an officer, they are no longer permitted to fire in its direction unless gunfire is emanating from that vehicle. After the announcement, Nathan Woodliff-Stanley of the ACLU of Colorado issued a statement:
“[We are] encouraged that the Denver Police Department will follow the trend of departments throughout the country and no longer allow its officers to consider a vehicle as a weapon in order to justify firing on the driver. Safety and common sense dictate that officers should get out of the way of a moving vehicle rather than using potentially deadly force on the occupants. As the new policy correctly states, ‘shooting at moving vehicles is dangerous because it rarely stops a vehicle and disabling a driver creates an out-of-control car that is also a danger.’ ” [emphasis added]
The decision to change DPD policy for opening fire on moving vehicles appears to be a reaction to the police shooting death of 17-year-old Jessie Hernandez. Though police maintain she was using her vehicle as a weapon by driving directly toward officers when they opened fire in self-defense, the autopsy found the fatal shots were fired into the driver’s side of her car. Conflicting details in the officers’ reports concerning how and when an officer’s leg was broken have not been explained. “DPD has stated that Ms. Hernandez struck the officer’s leg with the vehicle after which officers fired several shots,” said the Colorado Latino Forum. “Another DPD account stated the cause of the officer’s leg fracture was unclear. Yet, another DPD version stated that the officer’s leg was ‘injured in the process.’ ”
Hernandez’ death sparked national protests and a number of people—including activists, the Hernandez family and their attorney, as well as the ACLU—demanded a federal investigation. None was ever initiated. When Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey declined to press charges, locals were less than surprised—he has not prosecuted a single police officer in the last 23 years.
After Morrissey’s announcement on June 5, the ACLU renewed the call it made in 2011 for the Department of Justice to “investigate the Denver Police Department’s ‘pattern and practice’ of using excessive force and violating the civil rights of Denver residents.” At this time, that call remains unanswered.
“It is unfortunate that it took four officer-involved shootings at moving vehicles in less than a year, including the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Jessie Hernandez, for the Denver Police Department to finally make this change. It is imperative, in order to prevent more unnecessary deaths and injuries, that every officer is fully trained and held accountable to the new directives of this policy,” said Woodliffe-Stanley in the ACLU statement.
Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and other cities have already been reviewed by the DOJ, which found the same extant patterns of excessive force and racism that local residents had asserted for years. If the model holds, the DOJ would likely find the same should they investigate Denver’s police.
When it becomes a disturbing necessity for policy to dictate the startlingly logical—for example, police should move themselves from the path of an oncoming vehicle instead of opening fire—it’s officially time to sound the alarm.
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