Footage of San Antonio officer shooting dead 13-year-old boy released – days after grand jury declined to bring charges
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office has released video footage, accounts from witnesses, and 911 calls in connection to the fatal shooting of Andre Hernandez, 13, by San Antonio Police.
The office presented the evidence to a grand jury which chose not to put forward criminal charges against the officer, Stephen Ramos, who fired the shot that killed the teenager on 3 June last year.
At the time, Andre was driving a stolen vehicle, a red Toyota Corolla, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The footage released includes body camera video of an officer only identified as Espinoza, who was in a police vehicle that was hit by Andre. Dashboard camera footage was also shown to the grand jury from the police cars driven by Officers Espinoza and Ramos, in addition to still images from the body camera worn by Officer Ramos.
In the footage, Officer Espinoza pulls his leg back into his car before the side was struck by the Toyota, pushing the door closed. Law enforcement has argued that the officer’s life was in danger.
On Saturday, the office of the DA announced that it wouldn’t comment on the case as the grand jury proceedings are confidential.
But in an 11-page memo, the DA says in a review of the shooting that “it was reasonable for Officer Ramos to believe that Officer Espinoza was standing outside of his vehicle and was therefore being threatened with deadly force by the red Toyota as it accelerated towards him”.
“These facts led Officer Ramos to believe that Officer Espinoza was being threatened with deadly force. Thus he used deadly force to prevent unjustified harm to Officer Espinoza in accordance with” the Texas Penal Code, the review states, according to the Express-News.
However, Andre’s family, their lawyer, and an activist from the area argue that the Toyota wasn’t moving with sufficient speed to put the officer’s life in danger. They add that Officer Ramos would have been able to see that several children were in the vehicle.
Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt represents the family. He said he’s going ahead with a federal civil rights lawsuit on the family’s behalf, according to the Express-News.
The DA’s document states that for several weeks before the shooting, area residents had made complaints to law enforcement regarding gunfire, loud music, and people driving or standing in front of residences with guns visible.
Residents took images and handed them over to their police community liaison. One photo showed the Toyota, which police found to have been stolen.
The DA report states that the image included the message: “Picture is red car 13yr old brother drives … Again thank you so much PLEASE be careful pulling over any of these cars they have no regards for any life other than theirs.”
Police got a number of 911 calls on 3 June 2022 from residents of Indian Creek, southwest of San Antonio, reporting that they had heard a number of gunshots after 1am.
“It was one shot, two shots and then a whole round,” a caller said. “We didn’t get to see the car that drove by because we closed the garage.”
“All I can hear is just the bullets, or, you know, the gun,” another added.
Three officers were assigned to the call at 1.18am – Espinoza, Claire, and Ramos. Officer Claire was also only identified by his last name.
The altercation goes on for about 10 minutes, the DA report states. At 1.22am, the Toyota backs away from Officer Ramos’s car.
“Don’t let him ram you!” Officer Ramos tells Officer Espinoza.
Officer Espinoza comes to a stop, opens his door, and puts his left leg on the door stop.
“Let me see your hands!” he shouts. He then pulls his leg back into the car as the door slams shut when the Toyota strikes the vehicle. Officer Ramos gets out of his car and fires one round.
“Shots fired,” he tells police dispatch.
Andre exits his car, moves towards Officer Ramos and falls to the ground.
“I’m shot, sir,” he says.
Officer Ramos checks the teenager’s wounds, runs back to his vehicle, retrieves a medical kit, and starts to perform life support.
Andre was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.
The DA filing states that detectives noted “damage to both doors on the driver’s side of the patrol vehicle” and that the Toyota had a “large amount of front-end damage that was evenly distributed across the front of the vehicle”.
In his incident report, Officer Ramos wrote that he “believed that Officer Espinoza was standing at the driver’s side door of his patrol car when the driver accelerated towards him”.
“At this time, I believed the driver of the vehicle was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon to attempt to kill Officer Espinoza,” he added. “I fired one shot at the driver of the vehicle to stop the threat to Officer Espinoza.”
A witness who was in the Toyota with Andre, identified as MH, said that the Toyota struck the police car, but that the officer hadn’t exited. The witness also told law enforcement that he was aware that the car had been stolen.
The DA memo called the death of the teen a “tragedy”. But the document added that Andre’s age “was not known by Officer Ramos at the time, nor does it mitigate the threat to Officer Espinoza”.
The Independent has reached out to Mr Merritt for comment.
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