Yesterday, we told you about the death of Conifer's Kelsey Hauser.
The 25-year-old former bartender at Red Rocks was shot and killed while riding in a stolen car that became the target of a police chase in southern California, as was a pit bull also inside the vehicle.
The car's driver, Geoffrey Sims, another former resident of the Denver metro area, is being held on suspicion of attempting to kill a peace officer; he slammed into two law-enforcement vehicles but wasn't wounded by shots fired by the deputy whose bullets hit Hauser and the dog.
Now, Hauser's family has issued a statement in which they share their grief about the events that led to their daughter's life — incidents that put a renewed focus on the policy of police shooting into moving vehicles.
The controversy over this approach flared up in Denver after the January 2015 death of Jessie Hernandez, the driver of another stolen ride.
Protests were staged following the incident — and Denver Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell raised questions about Denver Police Department rules that allowed officers to open fire at a vehicle if they believed it was being used as a weapon.
In a letter to Denver Police Chief Robert White, Mitchell characterized the dangers inherent in such an approach:
It is difficult to shoot accurately into moving cars, and missed shots can hit bystanders and non-targets in a vehicle. In addition, if the driver of a moving vehicle that is travelling fast enough to threaten an officer is disabled or killed, the vehicle may go out out control, significantly increasing public peril. It is also potentially dangerous for officers. While DPD policy must empower officers to use any and all constitutionally sound tactics that will help them to remain safe, when an officer fires at a moving vehicle rather than attempting to get out of its path, the vehicle does not generally stop. Instead, a moving vehicle with a disabled driver will generally continue to travel towards the officer who may have failed to seize a short window of opportunity to get clear.
Mitchell also pointed out that numerous agencies and organizations across the country had turned against regulations allowing officers to fire into moving vehicles.
Another excerpt from the letter reads:
In assessing use of force policies, the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") has recommended that a number of police departments, including those of Albuquerque, Detroit and Cleveland, adopt policies that prohibit shooting at moving vehicles when the vehicles are the only threat to officer safety. Similarly, the Police Executive Research Forum ("PERF"), a premier policing think-tank, has recommended to multiple law enforcement departments that they adopt full prohibitions on this tactic when the vehicle is the only threat. Many other police departments around the U.S., including Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Miami Beach have chosen to fully prohibit this tactic, while others have not done so.
The Denver District Attorney's Office ultimately cleared the officers involved in the Hernandez shooting — after which the Denver Police Department changed its shooting-into-moving-vehicles policy. Its new approach was summarized like so:
Officers will receive updated training in conducting high risk stops and how to respond to moving vehicles. The training will include awareness of necessary tactics, pre-stop consideration, safely managing contact, approaching the vehicle after all visible occupants are secured, and post-stop considerations. They will do practice scenarios which will include how to “move or move to cover” respond appropriately when confronted with a car moving towards them. The training will be taught to patrol officers through their district corporals and training sergeants.
The Hauser shooting is currently under investigation. But preliminary reports about what went down — Sims reportedly tried to escape from a cul de sac in which he'd been trapped by driving at two law-enforcement cruisers, prompting a deputy to start shooting — suggest similarities to the Hernandez case and many others around the country that have led to fatalities.
For her part, Hauser was wanted in Colorado for non-violent drug offenses — and in their statement, her family members juxtapose her personal challenges with her positive qualities.
Our family is grieving, and there are no words to express the pain and sorrow we are experiencing following the sudden loss of our daughter Kelsey. We miss her immensely. She was bright and fun loving. As a young adult, Kelsey had her problems; we did our best to help her work through these and see her fulfill her potential, but those hopes are now gone. Through it all, Kelsey was a good person. She had a kind heart, an easy smile, and she never hurt anyone. Kelsey’s passing has left a void in our hearts that can never be filled. We would like to thank all our friends and family who have reached out to us. We are very lucky to have so many people who care about us. At this time, we are busy making arrangements to bring Kelsey home. There will be no further statements on behalf of the family, and we ask to be left in private to mourn our loss.
That a different police policy might have prevented her death no doubt contributes to the family's pain.
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