A fired Philadelphia police officer has been charged with murder in the shooting of a fleeing 12-year-old boy, who prosecutors on Monday said was on the ground and unarmed when the officer fired the fatal shot.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced first- and third-degree murder charges against former officer Edsaul Mendoza in the shooting of Thomas “T.J.” Siderio on March 1. Police say the youth had first fired a shot at an unmarked police car, injuring one of four plainclothes officers inside.
Mendoza, 26, was also charged with voluntary manslaughter and other charges, according to a grand jury presentment unsealed Monday. He had been suspended from his job March 8 with intent to fire.
Court records show Mendoza surrendered Sunday and was denied bail, rare treatment for former law enforcement officers facing charges.
A spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 said the union plans to provide a lawyer for the officer. Court records showed the public defender’s office represented Mendoza at his bail hearing Monday. The defender’s association declined to comment on the case.
Details of case unsealed
New details of the shooting were revealed in the unsealed grand jury documents Monday, including that Siderio had thrown a gun down about 12 metres from where he was shot and that the youth had dropped to the ground, either tripping or obeying a command to get down. Krasner said the officer crossed between two parked cars and, from about a half-car length away, fired the fatal shot from a position on the sidewalk behind the youth.
Krasner said much of the evidence was based on a video that has not been publicly released, but was shown to the grand jury. According to grand jury documents, prosecutors created a composite video from two cameras, one that recorded clear visuals of the foot chase, and another that recorded a different visual angle, but caught sound from the shooting.
“It is certain that (Siderio) had stopped running and he was possibly surrendering … and he was essentially facedown on the sidewalk,” Krasner said, saying the youth was in a pushup position looking back toward the officer.
Krasner called the entire foot chase “tactically unsound” and said the video was “disturbing to watch,” though when pressed, he refused to characterize the shooting beyond saying it was clear to him there was evidence to support a first-degree murder charge.
Police said the four plainclothes officers were in an unmarked car on the night of March 1, looking for a teenager they wanted to interview related to a firearm investigation. They saw two youths, Siderio and an unnamed 17-year-old, and manoeuvred the car around the block and drove up next to them to initiate a stop.
Prosecutors said Monday that almost at the same time the officers turned the red and blue lights on, a shot came through the back passenger window and ricocheted around the car. Prosecutors said it was unclear from video whether the boy knew it was a police vehicle when he fired, but the investigation is ongoing.
One officer was treated for injuries to his eye and face caused by broken glass.
Officer knew youth was unarmed, says DA
Mendoza and another officer on the passenger’s side got out and fired one shot each. Mendoza then chased Siderio down the block, firing twice and striking the boy once in the back from what prosecutors say was “relatively close range.”
Krasner said Mendoza immediately told another officer that Siderio had thrown his gun back, signalling to prosecutors that he knew the boy was unarmed. He said the video also shows the officer slowing down and changing his approach, and that he was able to see Siderio was on the ground when he fired the fatal shot.
Police recovered a firearm that had been reported stolen, and noted in the days after the shooting that it was loaded with another bullet in the chamber.
A message left with a lawyer representing Siderio’s father and other family members was not immediately returned.
The court document also notes a handful of contradictions to Mendoza’s story that the boy pointed a gun at him before he fired the two final shots, and that he was standing in the street when he fired the fatal shot, rather than almost over Siderio on the sidewalk.
It also raises questions about whether the officers were initiating a traffic stop against the two boys for riding their bikes the wrong way on a one-way street in order to talk to them about the firearm investigation. It notes neither was the target of that investigation. Unmarked cars and plainclothes officers are only supposed to make traffic stops in dangerous circumstances, according to department directives.
“It’s certainly a situation that might have had a very different outcome if there had been a marked police car,” Krasner said, deferring questions about the behaviour of the task force officers to the police commissioner.