PHOENIX - Prosecutors in metro Phoenix will not file criminal charges in the fatal police shooting of a 14-year-old boy who was holding a replica gun and fleeing the officer during a vehicle burglary call.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel says prosecutors wouldn't have likely won a conviction against Officer Joseph Jaen in January 2019 shooting of Antonio Arce in an alley in Tempe.
"That day, Officer Jaen did not see a 14-year-old boy with a replica. He saw a suspect running through a neighborhood with a weapon," said Adel.
Police officials have said Jaen fired because he thought the gun was real and perceived a threat.
“In those few split seconds, Officer Jaen thought someone was fleeing the scene of a crime and holding a gun where it could be discharged,” Adel said.
Body-camera footage showed Jaen drawing his handgun and taking cover behind a large trash bin as Arce can be seen moving around a pickup truck parked in the alley.
Jaen told Arce to show his hands as the teen runs away from the officer. The officer stopped and fired two shots at Arce, who didn’t appear to turn around or point a weapon at the officer.
"Officer Jaen felt the danger was imminent, running away from him after committing a crime, holding a weapon with his finger on the trigger," said Adel.
Jaen eventually located Arce on a sidewalk just outside the alley.
While waiting for other officers to arrive, Jaen described the suspect as being in his 40s.
Minutes later, he seemed upset and in disbelief when learning the person he shot was a teen. “It’s just a [expletive] kid,” Jaen said. “It’s a [expletive] toy gun, man.”
Jaen, who resigned as an officer about four months after the shooting, was granted an early disability retirement. In all, he worked for 17 years as an officer, 14 in Tempe and three in Bullhead City.
It’s rare for prosecutors in metro Phoenix to charge police officers in on-duty shootings.
If Jaen was still an officer, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir says he would have been suspended or even fired for violating department policy.
"Code of Conduct that says the employee failed to comply with the department's Use of Force Guidelines," said Moir. "His actions were not aligned with our values. He actions deviated from our training."
(Photo Courtesy: Tempe Police Department)
Adel's decision to not pursue criminal charges has noting to do with whether there is civil liability in the case. Arce's family has filed a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against Tempe.