PHOENIX (AP) — Prosecutors in metro Phoenix will not charge an officer who shot a 14-year-old boy holding a replica gun and running away during a call about a vehicle break-in.
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said prosecutors likely would not have won a conviction against Officer Joseph Jaen, who shot Antonio Arce in the back in an alley in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe in January 2019.
Adel said Jaen didn’t know when he fired his gun that Arce was 14. She also said the suspect was believed to be armed and about to run out of the officer’s view. Police officials have said Jaen fired because he thought the gun was real and perceived an imminent threat.
“In those few split seconds, Officer Jaen believed that someone was fleeing the scene of a crime, that they were in possession of a handgun and holding it in a manner where the weapon could be easily discharged,” Adel said.
Attorney Danny Ortega, who represents Arce’s parents, said his clients were disappointed. Ortega questioned how the teen could have been perceived as a threat when he was at least 100 feet (30 meters) away from the officer with his back turned.
“While Officer Jaen believed that Antonio was armed, his statement that he feared for his safety is not enough,” Ortega said. “The video shows that Antonio never pointed that supposed weapon at Officer Jaen and made no threats or any aggressive movement whatsoever.”
Body-camera footage showed Jaen drawing his handgun and taking cover behind a large trash bin as Arce moved around a pickup truck parked in an alley.
Jaen told Arce to show his hands as the teen runs away. Jaen stopped and fired two shots at Arce, who didn’t appear to turn around or point a weapon at the officer.
Jaen found 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 teenager.
“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.
A separate internal investigation by Tempe police concluded that Jaen had violated the agency’s use-of-force policy.
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said discipline would have been recommended for Jaen had he not resigned.
“His actions were not aligned with our values,” Moir said. “His actions deviated from our training.”
An effort to reach Jaen, who doesn’t have a listed phone number, was unsuccessful.
Ortega said his clients plan to move forward with a lawsuit against Jaen and the city of Tempe. Arce’s parents have already filed a notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — that seeks $5 million.
It’s rare for prosecutors to charge police officers in on-duty shootings.
Associated Press writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.