Family and friends of Andre “AJ” Hernandez gathered in front of San Antonio police headquarters Thursday to mourn the 13-year-old who was shot and killed on June 3 when officers attempted to pull over the allegedly stolen car he was driving.
According to police, the officer shot Hernandez because he feared for a fellow officer’s safety after the boy allegedly drove the car into a police cruiser.
Ananda Tomas, executive director of the police reform group ACT 4 SA, said at the rally that this latest shooting shows “a clear need” for all officers’ body camera footage to be released to the family, rather than the edited and narrated versions the department typically releases.
Thursday’s rally underscored the ongoing tension between the promise and reality of body cam footage in clarifying what happens when law enforcement kills or seriously injures someone. It also underscored the lack of trust many communities in San Antonio feel when it comes to officer-involved shootings and preliminary information that police provide afterward.
In March, activists and the family of Kevin Donel Johnson demanded that body cam footage be released earlier than the San Antonio Police Department’s 60-day policy. It was released after 18 days, but satisfied no one.
In April, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office declared that it would not publicly release body cam footage surrounding the death of Robert Inosencio after an hours-long standoff with deputies, because his family requested it not be released during the ongoing investigation.
Regardless of when footage is released, it doesn’t always capture an entire incident, and it’s often interpreted differently by law enforcement, activists and the family of those who are hurt or killed.
An SAPD spokesperson said Hernandez’ mother, Lynda Espinoza, is slated to review body camera and dashcam footage of the shooting next week.
Espinoza and other family members declined to speak to reporters at the protest, deferring to Tomas. Espinoza told NBC this week it took five days for police to notify her that her son had been killed.
Because Hernandez was a minor, “we are prohibited by [state] law in releasing the suspect’s name and any video/reports associated with this suspect/incident,” reads a statement from SAPD released Tuesday.
A police spokesperson said the department has reached out to the Attorney General’s office to confirm this rule.
According to police, patrol officers were responding to gunfire on the Southeast side when they “located and attempted to stop a suspect vehicle, which was later discovered to have been reported stolen.”
As police attempted to stop the car, it crashed into a marked SAPD patrol car; a second officer, “fearing that the other officer would be struck” by the car driven by Hernandez, fired into the car and hit the boy, according to police.
According to police, officers rendered aid until EMS arrived. Hernandez was later pronounced dead at University Hospital. His passengers, a 16-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, were reportedly uninjured.
The officer who shot Hernandez, Stephen Ramos, is a three-year veteran of the department and has been placed on administrative leave. Police are investigating the theft of the vehicle Hernandez was driving and the circumstances around his shooting.
At the rally Thursday, Tomas also questioned whether the officers were in any real danger.
“Eyewitness reports say that the police cruiser barely had any scratches or dents on it,” she said, referring to a San Antonio Express-News interview with a neighbor.
Much of the San Antonio community is still reeling from the deaths of 19 young children in Uvalde, noted Steven Huerta, executive director of human rights advocacy group All of Us or None Texas, at the rally.
“We will not accept fear as an excuse [for police] not to go in to a school to save our children, or fear as an excuse to go out into the streets and kill them,” Huerta said. “We will not accept that.”
The family is not yet considering civil action, Tomas said. “We’re just trying to get answers.”
In the meantime, the family has set up a GoFundMe to cover burial costs.
“AJ was known for being funny and a jokester,” Tomas said. “He was a 13-year-old with a full life ahead of him.”