By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A 17-year-old girl fatally shot by Denver police was struck by bullets fired through the left side of the car she was in, autopsy results showed on Friday, which her family says contradicts official reports she tried to run down the officers.
Jessica Hernandez died from "multiple gunshot wounds that injured the heart and both lungs," according to the autopsy conducted by the Denver Medical Examiner's office, which listed the death as a homicide.
Hernandez was killed before dawn on Jan. 26 by two officers as she sat behind the wheel of a stolen car in an alleyway in the city's Park Hill neighborhood.
Denver Police Chief Robert White said on the day of the shooting that the officers opened fire after she struck one of them with the car. He later said the officer may have been injured while trying to avoid being hit by the vehicle.
The autopsy said Hernandez was struck by bullets from the left, which relatives said called into question the official account of how she died.
"The report shows that Jessie was shot from the driver's side of the car and not from close range," her family said in a statement issued through their lawyer. "These facts undermine the Denver Police Department's claim that Jessie was driving at the officers as they shot her."
Hernandez's relatives renewed their call for a federal investigation into the shooting, and blasted police for the way she was dragged from the car, dropped to the ground and handcuffed after she being shot.
"The abrasions to her face confirm this inhumane treatment," the family's statement said.
Hernandez's death prompted street protests, and the Colorado Latino Forum, an advocacy group, said an independent civil rights probe is needed.
"Ms. Hernandez was young, Latina, and gay. As such, she carried three identities that have often suffered discrimination at the hands of law enforcement," the forum said in a statement.
The autopsy showed Hernandez also sustained bullet wounds to her thigh and pelvis, and toxicology results concluded the teen had marijuana and alcohol in her system when she died.
Four other juvenile girls who were in the car were uninjured and were released after being questioned, police have said.
Denver police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez said the department cannot comment on the autopsy results until the district attorney's office has completed its investigation into whether the shooting was justified.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Michael Perry)