The former Philadelphia police officer who fatally shot a 12-year-old boy in March has been charged with murder, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Monday.
Edsaul Mendoza, 26, was charged by a grand jury with first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of a crime in the fatal shooting of Thomas "TJ" Siderio on March 1, Krasner said at a news conference.
Evidence presented to the grand jury showed Mendoza fired three shots at Siderio after the boy most likely shot a gun at an unmarked police vehicle, which caused three plainclothes officers to duck for cover, Krasner said.
Mendoza fired the three shots during a "tactically unsound" foot chase, Krasner said. Around the time of the second shot from Mendoza's weapon, the boy tossed his gun. When Mendoza fired the third shot, Siderio was only half a car length's away from him and facedown on the ground.
It was unclear whether the juvenile fell or dived to the ground shortly before he was fatally wounded, Krasner said. Evidence indicated Siderio might have been turning toward Mendoza to surrender before he was killed, he said.
"At the time of the last two shots, Thomas Siderio was unarmed, having discarded the gun ... approximately 40-feet away," Krasner said.
Krasner said evidence shows Mendoza was aware the boy was unarmed and told an officer who arrived at the scene where the weapon was after the deadly encounter.
"He knew the 12-year-old, 5-foot-tall, 111-pound Thomas Siderio no longer had a gun. ... But he fired a shot through his back nonetheless that killed him," Krasner said.
Asked by a reporter whether the shooting was an assassination, Krasner said: "It's important that I not characterize it. We are going to have a case that goes before a Philadelphia jury. And a Philadelphia jury is going to have to make a decision that is completely fair. I can tell you that I find this very, very disturbing."
Krasner said there is video of the shooting, without elaborating about it.
Krasner and prosecutors also said it was unclear why the plainclothes officers stopped the juveniles to begin with, saying officers gave diverging accounts to the grand jury. Under the circumstances, Krasner said, it's not unfathomable that Siderio and the second juvenile might not have known they were dealing with police instead of a group pulling up "to do them harm," he said.
Mendoza also made "untruthful" statements about where he fired the second and third shots from, Krasner said.
Mendoza was being held on no bail Monday.
The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police said Monday it will represent Mendoza “against these very serious charges.”
“The accused officer, like every other citizen, is entitled to due process and we are confident that our judicial system will protect this officer’s constitutional right to a fair trial,” John McNesby, the union president, said in a statement.
A man reached Monday who identified himself as Mendoza's father said in Spanish that he was unaware of his son's arrest and the charges against him. The man wouldn't comment further.
Philadelphia police wouldn't comment Monday and deferred to Krasner's media briefing.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced March 8 that Mendoza would be fired, and Krasner confirmed Monday that the officer was terminated not long after the shooting.
“All use of force has to be proportionate to the resistance they are trying to overcome. I will also tell you that our policy states excessive force will not be tolerated. That’s the gist of what we’re talking about,” Outlaw said in March.
She added: “This incident does not reflect who we are as the Philadelphia Police Department. It is not aligned with our values of honor, integrity and service.”“Based off the evidence I reviewed, it’s clear that the use of force policy was violated,” Outlaw said, according to NBC Philadelphia.
The four plainclothes officers, assigned to the city’s South Task Force, were conducting an illegal gun possession investigation when they spotted a teen wanted for questioning in relation to their investigation, police said in a statement.
The officers drove toward the teen, who was with Siderio, and put on the car’s sirens, police said.
“At that point, they heard gunfire and glass shattering from the rear passenger window,” according to police. One officer was struck by shards of glass while two others pursued Siderio, who had shot at the car, the statement said.
No other officers were injured. The four were placed on administrative leave.
The gun the child is alleged to have used, a Taurus 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, was recovered at the scene, police said. The firearm had been stolen.
The other teen, 17, whom police were originally pursuing, was stopped for questioning and later released.