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David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Doug Jackson, center, and Lamar Sims, right, senior chief deputy district attorneys with the office of the Denver District Attorney, talk to Jose Castaneda, left, and other activists Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, about the fatal shooting of Castaneda's 17-year-old cousin who allegedly hit and injured a Denver Police Department officer while driving a stolen vehicle early Monday in a northeast Denver alleyway.

DENVER — An independent city official who monitors the Denver Police Department said he will investigate its policies and practices related to shooting at moving vehicles after a 17-year-old girl was shot and killed.

Nicholas Mitchell said Tuesday that such shootings pose unique safety risks to officers and the community.

The shooting of Jessica Hernandez on Monday was the fourth time in seven months that a Denver officer fired at a vehicle after perceiving it as a threat.

Police have said two officers fired after Hernandez drove a stolen car into one of them.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that officers may not use deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect unless the person is believed to pose significant physical harm.

Still, policies vary among agencies, and some departments have banned or discouraged the practice.

Mitchell's analysis will look at how national standards on firing at fleeing vehicles compare to Denver's policy, which prohibits officers from shooting at moving cars unless they have no other reasonable way to prevent death or serious injury.

He also will review other cases in which Denver officers fired at fleeing vehicles, including the fatal shooting of Ryan Ronquillo, 21, who officers said tried to hit them with his car outside a funeral home in July. Prosecutors have declined to file charges in that case.

Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said the department welcomes the inquiry. However, he declined to comment on the shooting of Hernandez.

"The facts of the case will bear themselves out," Jackson said.

A passenger in the car has disputed the official account, saying police opened fire before the vehicle struck the officer. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.

The passenger said Hernandez, her friend, lost control of the vehicle because she was unconscious after being shot.

Prosecutors promised a thorough probe of the shooting as a small group of angry protesters demanded swift answers and called for a special prosecutor to investigate the death.

The shooting occurred amid a national debate about police use of force fueled by racially charged episodes in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

The shooting happened after an officer was called to check on a suspicious vehicle, Chief Robert White has said. A colleague arrived after the officer determined the car had been reported stolen. Police have said the two officers approached the car on foot when Hernandez drove into one of them, and they both opened fire.

The passenger said officers came up to the car from behind and fired four times into the driver's side window as they stood on the side of the car, narrowly missing others inside.

Police said the officer suffered a leg injury for which he was treated at a hospital and released.

Officers with their guns drawn then pulled people out of the car, including Hernandez, who they handcuffed and searched.

Both officers involved in the shooting have been placed on routine administrative leave pending the investigation.