TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – The family of the 14-year-old boy who was shot in the back and killed by a Tempe police officer a year ago is suing the City of Tempe and the officer, claiming negligence and wrongful death. The complaint and demand for a jury trial were filed in the United States District Court for Arizona on Tuesday, one day before the anniversary of Antonio Arce’s death. His parents filed a $5 million notice of claim, the first step in a lawsuit, in July.
This goes back to the afternoon of Jan. 15, 2019, when Officer Joseph Jaen responded to a 911 call about a suspicious car in an alley behind a home near 48th Street and Baseline Road. Video from Jaen’s body camera showed Antonio in a gray pickup truck. It then showed Jaen approaching the truck, gun drawn.
[WHAT WE KNEW THEN: Tempe PD: 14-year-old boy with airsoft gun shot, killed by police]
Antonio got out of the truck and ran. Jaen said he believed the teen had a gun. It was later revealed that it was an Airsoft gun – a replica that appeared to have had the standard orange tip. In the video, you can hear Jaen yell, “Let me see your hands!” as Antonio ran. While Jaen, a 14-year veteran of the force, had said in his report that he identified himself as a police officer, the lawsuit says the video shows that he did not.
[BODY CAM VIDEO: Officer involved in shooting of 14-year-old armed with replica handgun]
“Even though Antonio had never turned toward defendant Jaen, was running in the opposite direction, made no attempt to manipulate the purported gun, and was over 100 feet away, defendant Jaen nevertheless made the decision to shoot Antonio,” the suit reads. The body camera video shows Jaen fire twice. One of those bullets hit Antonio in the back.
The suit then runs through the events of that afternoon, second by second, as documented by Jaen’s body camera, including his description of the teen as a “Hispanic male in his mid-40s.” The complaint also says that the officer “never attempted to render aid” in the 4 minutes it took for paramedics to arrive. “Rather, he watched as Antonio stopped breathing …,” the family’s lawyer wrote.
According to the lawsuit’s analysis of Jaen’s body camera video, about 10 minutes elapsed between the time he shot Antonio and the time Antonio was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital where doctors pronounced him dead.
Before that, Jaen is heard on his body camera saying, “He’s just a (expletive deleted) kid.”
Jaen is heard crying.
“It’s just a (expletive deleted) toy gun.”
Days after the shooting, some 200 people took to the streets, some carrying signs reading “Justice for Antonio.” They released white balloons when they reached the spot in the alley where he died.
"He ran because he was scared," Antonio’s brother said at the time. "I heard witnesses saying he was screaming, 'Oh my God, oh my God!'"
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office said in February that it would review the case. At this point, it's still under review.
Jaen resigned in May, about 4 months after the shooting. He was eventually granted retirement benefits. The lawsuit filed by Antonio’s family notes that Jaen, a wartime veteran, had applied for disability benefits related to PTSD in in 2012. He later withdrew his application. “While defendant Jaen later withdrew his application, the City of Tempe was on notice about his condition,” according to the lawsuit.
In October, months after the notice of claim was filed, the lawyer representing Arce’s parents says Tempe police wanted to keep documents related to the case secret. He said the department would only provide public records if he and the family entered into a nondisclosure agreement with a $1 million penalty if any information leaked.
“Ridiculous, egregious, absolutely mind-boggling,” attorney Daniel Ortega said at the time. “What the City of Tempe is doing is just adding to the grief.”