Tempe, AZ – The Tempe police officer who fatally shot a teenage burglar as he turned towards police with a gun in his hand will not face criminal charges (video below).
During a press conference on Friday, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel announced that Tempe Police Officer Joseph Jaen’s use of deadly force against 14-year-old Antonio Arce on Jan. 15, 2019, was justified.
Adel said that she reviewed bodycam footage, transcripts, photos, and an analysis from an outside investigator in order to arrive at her decision.
“We review the facts as an independent charging agency to ensure that the due process rights of a potential criminal defendant or a potential victim are protected,” she noted, adding that her office must never “rush to judgement.”
“Based on the evidence and the facts in this case, Officer Jaen believed that he was in imminent danger,” Adel told reporters. “Officer Jaen believed that those in the immediate area were in imminent danger.”
Officer Jaen “believed that he had no other choice but to fire his weapon to protect himself and the community,” the county attorney concluded.
Adel said that the outcome of the encounter was “heartbreaking,” but that Officer Jaen had no way of knowing that the suspect was armed with a replica weapon.
“In that moment, he saw a suspect running through a neighborhood with a weapon” while fleeing the scene of a crime, she said.
Officer Jaen also knew that the suspect was holding the gun “in a manner where the weapon could be easily discharged,” to include having his “finger on the trigger,” she added.
Two other witnesses also reported having seen the suspect’s finger on the trigger of the gun.
Adel explained that officers “can’t treat things as if maybe it’s a toy and maybe it’s not,” especially given the other circumstances of the encounter.
Arce was also about to round a corner, which would have taken him out of Officer Jaen’s field of view.
“Officer Jaen would have no way to protect the innocent residence in their homes that day” had Arce been allowed to escape under those circumstances, Adel said.
“This office will not be filing criminal charges in this matter,” she told reporters. “What he did was to protect himself and the community.”
“When I was appointed to this position last fall, I committed to the residents of Maricopa County to enhance and ensure transparency in this office,” Adel noted. “Understandably, this case is of great significance to the community, and this public announcement demonstrates my commitment to transparency in decision-making.”
The county attorney’s determination does not preclude Officer Jaen from potential civil liability.
The incident occurred at approximately 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, 2019, when Officer Jaen responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle near the intersection of Baseline Road and 48th Street, KPNX reported.
As the officer approached the area, the suspect got out of a vehicle he had broken into and was carrying a handgun, police said.
The teen, later identified by his family as Arce, took off on foot, WLS reported.
During the foot chase that ensued, the teen refused to comply with the officers’ verbal commands, and ultimately began to turn towards them, KTLA reported.
Officer Jaen “perceived a threat and fired his service weapon striking the suspect,” police said at the time, according to KPNX.
Arce was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Investigators recovered items the teen had stolen from the vehicle, including an airsoft replica 1911 handgun.
Officer Jaen, a 14-year veteran-of-the-force, resigned from the Tempe Police Department (TPD) in May of 2019 while the investigation into the case was still underway, KTAR reported.
After Adel’s announcement, Danny Ortega, the Arce family’s attorney, said he will be filing civil lawsuits against the City of Tempe and Officer Jaen, KTVK reported.
“Antonio posed no immediate threat to Officer Jaen or others,” Ortega declared. “He was just simply running away.”
“We believe we have a good opportunity to find justice here,” he added.
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir also held a press conference following Adel’s announcement, KTVK reported.
Even though Officer Jaen perceived that Arce could have hurt or killed him or innocent citizens, “his actions deviated from our training,” Chief Moir told reporters.
“He violated the Tempe Police Department code of conduct that says he failed to comply with the department’s use of force policy,” according to the chief.
He would have faced disciplinary action if he had not resigned, she said.
Chief Moir said that the department has implemented training to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring in the future, KTVK reported.
You can watch bodycam footage of Officer Jaen’s encounter with Arce in the video below: