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There are some things that the family of Andre “AJ” Hernandez want people to know about the 13-year-old that they won’t learn from the headlines about his death. He was a loving brother and a good grandson with a magnetic smile.
“He was a good kid,” his mother, Lynda Espinoza told Oxygen.com. “He was funny, goofy. He loved to make other people laugh. Lovable.”
As previously reported by Oxygen.com, Andre was shot by San Antonio Police Officer Stephen Ramos on June 3 and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
With an investigation on the shooting underway, Ramos, a three-year veteran of the force, is on administrative duty until further notice.
Andre was behind the wheel of a car reported as stolen with two other minors as passengers: a female, 16, and a male, 15. They weren't injured.
Police said in a statement that the vehicle “accelerated towards a marked SAPD patrol vehicle, crashing into the officer’s patrol vehicle.” Ramos feared that the officer would be struck by the suspect’s car, and fired his weapon, shooting Andre.
Now, Espinoza is preparing to bury her son this week, more than a month after burying her 16-year-old daughter, Naveah Martinez, who was fatally shot in a stolen car just blocks away from the family’s home.
“He was a 13-year-old little boy grieving the loss of his sister, and they were really close,” his aunt Stephanie Martinez told Oxygen.com. “He was still a baby and hadn’t even really started his life. I want people to know don’t always believe what you hear and read, wait for the facts to come out … wait for the truth to come out before you judge my nephew. Hopefully, once you hear the truth, you guys will be able to support us and support the family to get justice for my nephew.”
After the deaths of their two older siblings, Andre’s four younger sisters, ages 6 to 9, were removed from the home.
“At what point are we going to decide to intervene and deal with the trauma? We had a child who was in fact, acting out after his older sister … and when I say older, she’s still a 16-year-old girl who was brutally murdered. There were no mental resources offered by the city that will help them process this trauma. And so, he acted out in a way that most of us would see as pretty understandable given what he had gone through,” Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney told Oxygen.com. “You have Lynda Espinoza being treated as a criminal because her children are being harmed by the chaos that exists in the community. None of the violence that fell upon her kids actually came from her home. You know, there’s no evidence of abuse within the home or neglect within the home. “
Espinoza told Oxygen.com that Child Protective Services had informed her that the children would not be allowed to attend their brother’s funeral services on Thursday and Friday because the agency fears for the safety of the worker who would have to accompany them.
“That’s complete and utter nonsense,” community activist Pharaoh Clark told Oxygen.com. “The mom has never been violent. There’s no history of violence towards the CPS and there’s absolutely no other reason why they should stop the kids from coming.”
“We don’t comment on specific cases, but when a child is in foster care, we work closely with an entire team including the child’s therapist, Ad Litem, the judge and the family to help make the best decisions for the child’s health and wellbeing,” a spokesperson for the agency told Oxygen.com in an email.
Espinoza said she has only been allowed Zoom visits with her girls since they were removed.
Espinoza and Merritt disagree with the police version of what happened on June 3. Espinoza was only able to view the beginning of the body cam footage. It was too upsetting. Merritt watched all three of the videos provided by the San Antonio Police Department.
“They rushed out an opinion of the shooting to justify it in hopes that it would go away. That opinion was inconsistent with the facts of what happened in some minor ways, but also in some very important ways,” Merritt said. “Most specifically, those children in that car at no time presented a deadly threat to police officers that would have justified the use of force. There certainly was an investigation going on concerning a stolen car. AJ was operating the vehicle. That’s true. That vehicle did come in contact with another police cruiser at a very low rate of speed. There was no deadly threat present when officer Stephen Ramos made the decision to use deadly force.”
San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia told the Washington Post that the investigation of the shooting was still underway, and Merritt presented a version of events as an advocate for his client.
“Of course, without waiting for the facts, Mr. Merritt will say the shooting was not justified; he is advocating for his client,” he said. “We also expect any information shared publicly by Mr. Merritt concerning the video will be calculated to advance his perspective.”
“He was a little boy. You could tell clearly from the video,” Espinoza said. “I want justice for my son. I want him [Ramos} to go to jail.”
Espinoza attributes much of her son’s behavior to grief over the death of his sister. He left home after his sister’s funeral on May 20. His mother reported him as a runaway to authorities.
“I just put him as a runaway because he didn’t want to come with me, didn’t want to listen. So, I did what a mother was supposed to do.”
Ebonie Hernandez, another aunt in Chicago, told NBC News she saw changes in Andre when she came to San Antonio for her niece’s funeral.
“When I visited seven months ago, we had a wonderful time watching movies together. He was a good kid,” she said. “It’s just, you know, kids get mixed up, and he was grieving. They’re young, they get in a new crowd, and instead of being the leader that he was, he decided to follow other kids, and he got caught in a bad situation.”
Merritt plans to file a civil lawsuit against the city later this week.
In a statement to Oxygen.com the Bexar County District Attorney said the SAPD was still conducting their investigation.
“There is no timeline for either a law enforcement agency’s investigation or our office to review these matters. Once the Civil Rights Division has completed its review, the case will be presented to a Grand Jury, which will determine if the case should be forwarded to a trial court.”
Merritt expects an indictment.
“I think any reasonable grand jury will return a criminal indictment because you have an unarmed 13-year-old who is non-threatening, according to the video evidence that we’ve now seen, and a police officer who shot without thinking,” he said.
Andre’s family is grieving and fighting for justice.
“I would like to see officer Ramos be held accountable. He needs to be charged with murder, and he needs to go to prison. Because if it was me or anybody else, they would probably be sitting in jail right now with no bond.” Martinez said. “What’s the difference ‘between him and us?”
“It’s not just justice for me, but for me and my family, my kids as well,” Espinoza said. “The day they took my girls, they were yelling ‘You all killed my brother.’ How are they going to view police after this? It’s going to be hard for them.”
“We’ve seen the video. You could tell they were kids. I’ve played it over and over. You can tell. I don’t know. I don’t understand why they shot him,” Espinoza said as she started to cry, and Martinez hugged her and tried to comfort her.
The family has created a GoFundMe page to help pay for Andre’s funeral and other expenses.
Ramos shot and killed John Pena Montez, 57, last year. Montez threatened his estranged wife with a knife, according to NBC News.
He was repeatedly told to drop the knife but refused. Ramos shot him when Montez swung the knife at another officer who was trying to tase him.
Montez’s sister, Debra Montez Felder disagrees with the police department’s official version of events.
Felder told NBC that Ramos should have been fired after her brother’s death.
“SAPD and the DA’s office were on notice that this guy was a hothead, trigger-happy,” she said. “You were aware of it even before the killing of this 13-year-old boy."
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