The city of Denver on Wednesday announced it has agreed to pay $1 million to the family of Jessica Hernandez, a teenager shot and killed by police two years ago.
The city made a number of other commitments to Jessica's parents, from involving the family in the department's reform efforts to improving relations with the LGBTQ community. Hernandez was gay.
The settlement closes one chapter in a case that drew national attention. But Laura Rosales and Jose Hernandez, Jessica's parents, said in Spanish that the pain from her death will not go away anytime soon.
"We want peace," Rosales said through tears to a group of reporters. "But I know we don’t have it because she’s not home anymore. It’s not the same. She was the sunshine of my house.”
City officials said the settlement will allow all parties to move forward. The family’s attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, said they wanted to avoid a lawsuit that probably would have dragged on for years.
“No matter who would’ve ultimately prevailed, after a jury trial in federal court there would have been no winners," he said. "No one would have been better for having to go through this lawsuit.”
Mohamedbhai said the police department's non-monetary commitments were important to the family as well. Among them:
- The department won’t proactively release information on the criminal background of suspects. After Jessica was killed, the Hernandez family was upset when police officials portrayed her as a troubled teen. The department will still have to release info as the state’s open records law requires.
- The department will try to improve its relationship with the Latino and LGBTQ communities by holding a community meeting later this year.
- The family will be involved with the department’s ongoing effort to re-write its use-of-force policy.
And while it wasn't part of the settlement, the department had earlier changed its policies to restrict when officers can fire at moving vehicles. Now, they are restricted to only when they are in immediate, unavoidable danger.
The Denver district attorney declined to charge the officers involved in the shooting. And an internal review concluded they had not violated any policies.
Police Chief Robert White said all of these commitments fit in with department’s attempts to modernize. Culture change is a big part of that, he said.
"The changing of the culture and the changing of many of the policies are all for the purpose of us doing the best job we can in preventing crime," White said at a city hall press conference.
The Hernandez family says they pushed for these commitments because they don’t want other people to go through what they are living now. The pain, Jessica’s mother Laura Rosales said, is still strong.