Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Andre "AJ" Hernandez's family, said police body camera footage contradicts SAPD's accounts of the shooting of Hernandez.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Andre "AJ" Hernandez's family, said police body camera footage contradicts SAPD's accounts of the shooting of Hernandez. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This story has been updated.

A high-profile attorney said Tuesday he will soon file a civil lawsuit against the City of San Antonio and a police officer who shot and killed 13-year-old Andre “AJ” Hernandez earlier this month.

Attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Hernandez’s family, said during a virtual press conference that body camera footage recorded during the incident contradicts SAPD’s accounts of the shooting and shows excessive use of force.

Merritt, a civil rights lawyer, has represented the families of several slain Black men across the U.S., including Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean and George Floyd. He ran unsuccessfully to become the Democratic party’s nomination for Texas Attorney General in this year’s primary.

Merritt said he came to the conclusion that the use of deadly force was “completely unnecessary,” after he and the family watched three videos of the incident taken from body and dash cams on Monday with SAPD Internal Affairs investigators.

State law prohibits SAPD from publicly releasing video of a minor; Merritt said he and the family are “not looking for the release of the actual video at this point.”

Lynda Espinoza, Hernandez’s mother, decided not to watch all of the footage, which showed the last moments of her son’s life.

“I believe it was the right thing [not to watch],” she said. “It’s been very traumatizing and I want to get justice for AJ.”

Merritt also told reporters Tuesday that he has asked the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office to issue an arrest warrant for Officer Stephen Ramos, the officer who shot Hernandez, for murder.

It’s possible that the ultimate charge could be manslaughter, Merritt said. Based on how video of quickly Ramos fired the shot — and without verbal warning — that killed Hernandez, he said, “it appeared to me is that it was potentially a misfire or inadvertent fire.”

The case is still pending investigation and the district attorney’s office cannot comment on the specifics of this case, a spokesperson said via email: “As it does with all shootings by police, our Civil Rights Division will do a thorough review of the incident and then present it to a grand jury, which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to send the case to a trial court.”

Merritt said he would file the wrongful death claim with the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the next 10 days and will allege a “pattern of abuse” by the city for not properly training officers to value “preserving human life” and the importance of de-escalation tactics.

According to an SAPD account of the incident released last week, officers were responding to reports of gunfire on the Southeast side on June 3 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 “accelerated towards a marked SAPD patrol vehicle, crashing into the officer’s patrol vehicle.”

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.

Merritt took issue with the official account.

“The so-called collision was more of a bump and resulted in absolutely no damage to either vehicle,” Merritt said. “This was not a deadly threat. It was a little boy behind the wheel of a car who was surprised that there was not one officer behind him but two officers. … The threat was over before a single shot was fired.”

The other officer, whose name has not been released by SAPD, had time to get back into his cruiser before Hernandez’s vehicle bumped into his door, Merritt said, and the audio from the incident reveals it took less than a second for Ramos to shoot: “You hear the door close, and then you hear a shot.”

Merritt said the camera footage showed the officer in the vehicle that Hernandez struck then drew his gun and pointed it at the teenagers inside the vehicle, ordering them to raise their hands while the officer crawled out of his car window. (A 16-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, who were reportedly uninjured, were also in the car Hernandez was driving.)

“He had his weapon at the ready and if he felt a threat, he could have used deadly force, but he chose not to,” Merritt said. Ramos, on the other hand, “decided to be quick on the trigger and to fire into the vehicle.”

It’s unclear how Hernandez came to be driving the car, Merritt said. The teen was mourning the death of his 16-year-old sister, who was found last month shot in the head in the back of a stolen vehicle, about a half-mile away from where Hernandez was shot.

“He went missing and ran away from home,” Merritt said. “We don’t know what he was doing during that period from the time that his sister passed away and was buried to the point where he was killed on June 3.”

Ramos has been placed on administrative duty, pending the outcome of an internal investigation, City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement.

“Of course without waiting for the facts, Mr. Merritt will say the shooting was not justified, he is advocating for his client,” Segovia said. “We also expect any information shared publicly by Mr. Merritt concerning the video will be calculated to advance his perspective.”

The city has paid out nearly $1 million in the last two months settling lawsuits involving people who died at the hands of local police officers.

Last week, City Council approved a $466,300 settlement with the family and estate of Jesse Aguirre, who died after he was handcuffed and held facedown by police on a highway in 2013.

Last month, the city paid $450,000 to the family of Antronie Scott, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2016.

Merritt said Hernandez’s family should not have to wait years for justice to wind its way through the criminal or civil courts.

“These investigations can take over a year,” he said. “We don’t think that this incident should require that amount of time. There’s not an extreme backlog.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at