The police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Thomas “TJ” Siderio two months ago in South Philadelphia was charged Monday with first-degree murder following a grand jury investigation.
Edsaul Mendoza, 26, who was suspended from the PPD in the aftermath of the killing and later fired, is accused of shooting TJ in the back at close range after the boy had tossed away his gun and fallen to the ground.
“It is certain that Thomas Siderio, at the time he was shot, had stopped running and that he was possibly surrendering,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “It is certain that Thomas Siderio, at the time he was shot, was essentially facedown on the sidewalk, that he was in a position that approximates sort of a push-up.”
When the four officers approached TJ and a 17-year-old boy—who was not named in court documents—in an unmarked car with tinted windows on March 1, a shot was fired, likely from TJ, that shattered one of the vehicle’s windows.
Mendoza chased down the 12-year-old and fired two shots after the boy had discarded his gun, which was found about 40 feet away from his body, according to evidence from the grand jury report.
Hours after the charges were filed, attorneys for Desirae Frame, TJ’s mother, characterized the shooting as an “execution” and signaled their intent to pursue legal action against the city and the PPD.
Mendoza, of Northeast Philadelphia, who was also charged with third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and possessing an instrument of crime, is being held without bail. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 is supporting his defense.
“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,” local FOP President John McNesby said in a statement.
Members of the grand jury were shown video, spliced with audio from a nearby surveillance camera, that proved pivotal in the case, the DA’s Office said. Krasner said his team will only release the footage with a judge’s approval.
The clip, according to the report, shows TJ diving or falling to the ground after Mendezo fires a shot in his direction, though the boy was not hit.
Brian Collins, an assistant district attorney, estimated that TJ was prone for four-to-six seconds before Mendoza opened fire again.
“There are indications that Mendoza calls out, ‘Drop the gun,’ before Thomas Siderio drops it,” Krasner told reporters. “And then right after Thomas Siderio drops it, he calls out, ‘Get down.’”
Mendoza, the report says, can be seen running toward TJ and firing another shot from half-a-car-length away, or less than 10 feet.
Jurors concluded that the facts of the case point to the conclusion that Mendoza knew TJ was unarmed when he fired the last, fatal shot.
Less than a minute after the shooting, he told a fellow officer that TJ had tossed the gun, pointing toward where the weapon was quickly found, according to court documents.
Before firing the final round, Mendoza changed course and ran straight toward the boy, straying from police training about taking cover and avoiding dangerous situations. In addition, he allegedly told authorities initially that he fired the shot from farther away.
The shooting also raises questions about the role of undercover units.
On the night TJ was killed, the plainclothes officers were looking for Santo Primerano, who was suspected of possessing a stolen gun, according to court documents. Based on social media postings, they connected Primerano to the 17-year-old with TJ on March 1.
A U.S. Secret Service agent who was in a different car participated in the operation, according to the report, though Krasner declined to say why federal law enforcement were involved in the gun investigation.
When the officers spotted the teenager and TJ on bicycles at 18th and Barbara streets, they circled around the block and decided to stop the boys.
Almost as soon as the officers activated their emergency lights, the shot into the car was fired, Krasner said. Although the officers did not see who fired the bullet, police have maintained that it came from TJ’s handgun.
Other than the blue-and-white lights, the officers did not identify themselves as police, according to court documents.
Initiating traffic and pedestrian stops while undercover goes against police department protocols and general law enforcement practice, the grand jury found.
“There are reasons why police officers wear uniforms in certain situations and why they don’t in other situations,” Krasner said. “There are reasons to have marked cars in certain situations and not to have them in other situations.”
The officers, the report says, did not see TJ or the teenager committing a crime or holding a gun at the time of the stop, and they later gave conflicting accounts for why they pulled over at the corner.