Nearly 13 months after a Tempe police officer shot and killed 14-year-old Antonio Arce as he was running away from him, his family and community advocates are trying to understand how justice can be served, now that prosecutors have said they won’t charge the officer.
Since the investigation was opened in February 2019 into officer Joseph Jaen, community advocates have been critical of the City of Tempe and the Tempe Police Department, questioning their motives and transparency.
For instance, the full body camera footage wasn’t made public until Jan. 7, nearly a year after the Jan. 15, 2019, shooting.
“I understand there are rules and guidelines you have to follow when there’s an investigation open, but why make us wait a year?” said Darien Barett, an organizer with Tempe Against Police Violence. “They could have been more transparent.”
Last week, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel held a press conference and announced that charges had been dropped against Jaen, stating that they will likely not secure a conviction at trial.
“Our decision does not pass judgement on whether departmental policies and procedures were followed in this matter,” Adel said. “The decision today … is to determine if criminal charges should be filed,” she said, adding that the incident was “heartbreaking” and that damages could still be pursued in civil court.
Protests are planned after the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office later this week.
Antonio Arce killed while fleeing crime scene
On Jan. 15, 2019, officers responded to a call of suspicious activity in an alley near 48th Street and Baseline Road in Tempe.
In the body camera footage, a truck is seen in an alley with its doors open, and Arce on the passengers side.
Officer Jaen is seen exiting his vehicle and taking cover behind a dumpster with his weapon drawn. As Arce begins to flee the scene, running down the alley separating houses in a residential neighborhood, Jaen follows, firing multiple shots.
In the video, Arce is seen holding a replica gun with an orange tip, signifying the model is a toy. Jaen said he did not know the gun was a toy at the time.
In 1988, Congress passed a law requiring all toy guns and “imitation firearms” have an orange plug inserted in the barrel so law enforcement can readily distinguish fake weapons from real ones.
Arce made it through the alley before he collapsed in the street.
In the body camera footage, Jaen can be heard saying, “It’s just a (expletive) kid … It’s a (expletive) toy gun, man. What the (expletive)?”
In her press conference announcing Jaen wouldn’t face charges, Adel cited Tennessee v. Garner, a 1985 Supreme Court case which bars police from administering deadly force if a suspect is fleeing, unless the officer has cause to believe that the suspect poses significant danger. Jaen has maintained that, at the time of the shooting, he believed Arce was armed and posed a threat to himself and others.
Tempe Against Police Violence, Tempe-based community advocacy group Semillas and the ASU chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America will be holding a protest Feb. 13 at Tempe City Hall, where councilmembers will be attending a regular meeting.
“There is no justice. We got no justice,” Barett said of the decision not to prosecute Jaen. He said he was glad that Tempe Chief of Police Sylvia Moir said Jaen’s conduct was in violation of protocol, but he wished that it could have been announced sooner.
“They knew this officer violated the use of force policy,” Barett said. “To know that they knew this and bit their tounge for almost a year now, it’s pretty sickening.”
Barett said he is unsure of how many people will attend the protest, but their previous demonstrations and candle light vigils have brought out between 30 and 200 people. He hopes it will be enough to prove a point to the Tempe City Council.
“I’m tired of the city leaders ignoring the community,” he said. “I think they need to be more transparent with the community if they want peace.”