Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt (second from left) prepares to deliver a press statement on Monday in San Antonio.
The attorney representing the family of a 13-year-old boy shot by a San Antonio police officer will seek homicide charges against the officer and pursue a civil suit against the city, he said Tuesday.
That attorney, high-profile civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, also said body-cam footage from the incident contradicts the San Antonio Police Department's claims that the shooting was necessary to protect the life of another officer.
In its account of the shooting, which occurred June 3, SAPD has said Officer Stephen Ramos fired at 13-year-old Andre "AJ" Hernandez Jr. because the patrolman feared another officer would be injured by the stolen car the youth was driving .
But Merritt said video footage shows that the officer whom SAPD argued was in danger had his own gun drawn but never fired — an indication he wasn't in jeopardy and didn't see the need to use deadly force. Further, the attorney has alleged
that Ramos last year year was involved in a separate fatal shooting incident.
"The prosecutor, in his discussion about the case, expressed frustration about it being the officer's second time, ensuring us that there would be a proper presentation to the grand jury," Merritt said Tuesday during an hour-long Zoom press conference.
During the call, Merritt also said that the car driven by the youth didn't T-bone a police cruiser as authorities have claimed. Instead, video shows that it make contact with the police vehicle at just 2-5 miles per hour, he maintained.
In statement emailed to the Current
, San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said there's an active and ongoing internal investigation of the shooting and that the findings will be handed over to the Bexar County District Attorney's Office for review. Further, Ramos has been placed on administrative duty.
"Of course without waiting for the facts, Mr. Merritt will say the shooting was not justified, he is advocating for his client," Segovia added. "We also expect any information shared publicly by Mr. Merritt concerning the video will be calculated to advance his perspective.”
Less than a second
During Tuesday's call, Merritt said Hernandez and two other juveniles were traveling down War Horse Drive in Southwest San Antonio when a police cruiser approached from the opposite direction. Hernandez backed into a driveway, the attorney added, citing body-cam video obtained from three officers at the scene.
One officer, whose name hasn't been released to the public, pulled his Chevy Tahoe cruiser in front of the stolen car to prevent it from exiting the driveway, according to Merritt's version of events. The unnamed officer then opened the door of his cruiser and stuck a leg out to exit the vehicle.
When the car driven by Hernandez inched toward the cruiser at a low speed, the officer moved his leg back into his own vehicle and closed its driver-side door, the attorney alleges.
The stolen vehicle made contact with the cruiser but sustained no damage, Merritt said. At that point, he added, he officer rolled down his window with his gun drawn and began talking to the youth inside the stolen vehicle.
Ramos, who arrived in another police vehicle, exited and fired into the car driven by Hernandez, even though the other officer — whom Ramos claims was in immediate danger — was engaging with the suspect and already had his gun drawn, according to Merritt.
Merritt said body-cam footage shows there was less than a second between Ramos exiting his vehicle and firing his pistol.
'Please contact his family'
"During the videos that we were shown, no medical aid was rendered," Merritt added. "It is not our claim that none was ever administered. But, from the videos that we were shown up to the point of collision — to the point of collapse, when he [Hernandez] got out — he was immediately handcuffed at that point, and once he was handcuffed, the video stopped."
It's unclear how long it took for an emergency crew to bring Hernandez to the hospital, Merritt said. However, the ambulance carrying the teen drove past two other medical facilities while en route to University Hospital, located on the other side of the city from where the fatal shooting occurred, the attorney alleged.
Two other juveniles, a 16-year-old female and a 14-year-old male, were also in the car driven by Hernandez, according to multiple accounts. Per the body-cam footage, the vehicle was well-lit, and it should have been apparent to the responding officers that the driver and passengers were minors, Merritt said.
"The 14-year-old in the tape said that he knew AJ. And that he knew his mother and had her contact," Merritt said. "While AJ was on the ground, he was speaking to officers through the window saying, 'Please contact his family.'"
Merritt said San Antonio authorities haven't explained to him or to Hernandez's mother, Lynda Espinoza, why it took five days to inform the family that Ramos fatally shot her son.
Merritt said he requested that Bexar County issue an arrest warrant for Ramos for the charge of homicide.
Further, the lawyer said he's filing a civil rights suit against the officers involved, alleging that they violated the Fourth Amendment for using deadly force, improper seizure and causing a wrongful death. He expects to file a petition within the next five days.
Merritt's office also plans to file a claim against Ramos and the city of San Antonio for what Merritt describes as a pattern of abuse and police misconduct.
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