Tempe police officer who fatally shot teen won’t face criminal charges

Jan 31, 2020, 11:09 AM | Updated: 5:04 pm

Joseph Jaen...

Joseph Jaen (Tempe Police Department Photo)

(Tempe Police Department Photo)

PHOENIX – Joseph Jaen, the now-retired Tempe police officer who fatally shot a fleeing 14-year-old boy in 2019, will not face criminal charges, authorities said Friday.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said Jaen had reason to believe “he was in imminent danger” a little over a year ago when he shot shot Antonio Arce, who was running away down an alley while carrying an airsoft replica handgun he allegedly took from a truck.

“That day Officer Jaen did not see a 14-year-old boy with a replica,” Adel said. “He saw a suspect running through a neighborhood with a weapon” and made a split-second decision he thought was in the interest of public safety.

Adel said her office didn’t believe it was likely a jury would convict Jaen given the evidence and legal precedence and therefore the case didn’t reach a standard for filing charges.

The decision doesn’t affect a potential civil lawsuit by Arce’s family, Adel said. She also said it doesn’t address whether police procedure was properly followed during the incident.

“Those matters are left to civil courts and municipal administrative bodies,” she said.

Jaen had responded to a 911 call Jan. 15, 2019, about a suspicious truck parked in an alley behind a home off 48th Street between Southern Avenue and Baseline Road.

When he approached the truck, Arce exited from the vehicle’s passenger side and fled on foot while carrying the replica weapon, which had an orange tip to signify it wasn’t a real firearm.

Jaen gave chase and shot Arce, who didn’t comply with commands to stop, in the back.

Police initially said Jaen perceived a threat when Arce turned back, but body camera footage appeared to show that the teen never turned back and was running away when Jaen fired. Jaen and two witnesses reported seeing Arce’s finger on the trigger, Adel said.

In addition to reviewing police evidence, Adel said an independent analysis completed Dec. 31 informed the decision against pressing charges.

“Based on the facts and the evidence in this case, Officer Jaen believed he was in imminent danger. Officer Jaen believed that those in the immediate area were in imminent danger, and … Officer Jaen believed he had no other choice but to fire his weapon to protect himself and the community,” she said.

Jaen, who had been with the department for 14 years, resigned in May while the case was under review. He’s been on leave since the shooting.

In body camera video made public, Jaen was heard yelling “let me see your hands” before firing twice at the boy, who kept running down an alley and around the corner.

Unredacted body camera footage shown to the media showed that officers began performing life-saving measures on Arce until nearly seven minutes after the shooting.

The case became a local and national rallying point against police brutality, and even was mentioned by former Democratic candidate Julian Castro during a presidential debate in June.

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Tempe police officer who fatally shot teen won’t face criminal charges