The gun that Philadelphia police say 12-year-old Thomas “TJ” Siderio tossed after shooting into an unmarked police car was found five doors down — or roughly 60 feet — from where he was fatally shot by an officer last week, video and audio recordings obtained by The Inquirer show.
Police have not said whether TJ was still carrying the weapon when the officer shot him in the back and killed him last week on a South Philadelphia sidewalk.
The officer, identified by police sources with direct knowledge of the case as Edsaul Mendoza, will be fired, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Tuesday. She declined to identify him, or the three other officers working with him that night, citing potential threats to their safety. Outlaw would not specify how Mendoza had violated departmental guidelines, except to say: “It was clear that the use-of-force policy was violated.”
Two police sources have told The Inquirer that TJ was carrying a gun when officers fired twice at him but that the next two shots, including the fatal one, were “concerning.”
Mendoza could not be reached for comment and the police officers’ union representing him declined to comment.
On Wednesday, the Philadelphia law firm of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky announced it was representing the boy’s mother.
The events that led to the shooting unfolded in less than a minute. The following account is compiled from video footage obtained by The Inquirer, archived police-dispatch audio, police records, and interviews:
It was around 7:20 p.m. on March 1 when Mendoza and three other plainclothes officers assigned to a special gun-crime unit known as the South Task Force were sitting in an unmarked car, a black Chevrolet Cruze, at the corner of 18th and Barbara Streets. The officers were Mendoza, Kwaku Sarpong, Robert Cucinelli, and Alexander Camacho, according to police records.
The officers drove toward TJ and a 17-year-old boy, who were standing on the corner, and turned on the car’s flashing lights, Outlaw said Tuesday.
Just before 7:21, the car was nearly parallel to the boys when a bullet pierced the rear window,
then ripped through a passenger’s headrest and into the car’s headliner. Shards of glass from the window left Camacho with injuries to both eyes. Outlaw said preliminary evidence showed TJ had fired the shot.
Mendoza and Sarpong sprang from the vehicle, as both boys fled east on Barbara Street. Each officer then fired a shot at TJ, Outlaw said, without naming the officers. Sarpong then “maintained cover,” Outlaw said, as Mendoza took off down the narrow block, in the direction of 17th Street, and fired two more rounds.
About 17 seconds after the bullet shattered the car window, frantic calls from officers with the South Task Force sounded across the police band: “Shots fired, shots fired, shots fired!”
Just before that call went out, Mendoza had reached the eastern end of Barbara Street. Mendoza, wearing a tactical vest over street clothing, is captured on a surveillance camera, leaning over TJ’s prone body on the sidewalk outside a house at 1729 Barbara St.
TJ can be heard moaning.
Mendoza had shot him in the upper right back and the bullet exited through his chest, Outlaw said. She would not say how close Mendoza was to him when he fired.
“Yo, I got one down here!” Mendoza shouted.
”Camacho! I got one shot,” Mendoza yelled back to his partner, who was still closer to their car at the end of the block at 18th Street. “Rush a medic. Rush a car.”
Camacho, still bracing cuts on his face from the shattered glass, reached Mendoza seconds later and spotted the body of the 12-year-old.
He asked if the child had been shot.
”He’s shot,” Mendoza replied. “I shot him.”
”Where’s the gun?” Camacho asked.
The gun wasn’t there.
Mendoza explained that TJ had thrown it somewhere back along the way they came — “he throw it around there.” Camacho turned around and moved back toward 18th Street and the unmarked police vehicle. He found the gun about 60 feet west of TJ’s body, in front of a rowhouse at 1739 Barbara St.
”We got a gun in front of 1739,” Camacho radioed back to dispatch, just before 7:24. It was the 9mm Taurus semiautomatic handgun that TJ had been carrying, police said. According to Outlaw, it had been stolen and was equipped with a laser sight and loaded with one round in the chamber and five rounds in the magazine.
Neighbors began to peer at the scene: two men, neither in uniform, standing over a wounded child. One bystander can be heard on surveillance footage saying of Mendoza and Camacho: “I don’t know if they’re cops, or what they are.”
After she heard the shots, Maureen Flocco opened her front door on Barbara Street. She saw a boy she did not know lying on his side with his legs drawn close. He was not moving. Nor was he making any sound.
“He was just a kid,” she said. “It’s so sad. A 12-year-old is dead in front of your house. Like what do you do with that? I’ll never forget his face. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.”
As Camacho radioed in the gun’s location, and other police units begin searching for the 17-year-old, Mendoza’s other partners, Sarpong and Cucinelli, who were dressed in jeans and hoodies, drove their unmarked Chevy Cruze down Barbara Street to the scene of the shooting with police lights flashing.
Mendoza and one of the other undercover officers attempted to pick up the boy by his legs and shoulders and move him into the unmarked car, but the trio began to argue.
The driver of the Chevy Cruze told them not to put the boy in the unmarked car, now effectively part of a block-long crime scene. Mendoza moved to flag down a marked Philadelphia police SUV that came roaring down the block.
One of the two officers in hoodies hooked his arms around TJ’s shoulders and pulled him into the back of the SUV just before 7:24. As the officer moved him, TJ’s sneakers came off.
Within minutes, more police units moved in to secure the scene.
The police SUV carrying TJ drove down the highway to a trauma bay at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, in West Philadelphia, where both the boy and Camacho would receive medical treatment. At 7:39, less than 20 minutes after the encounter had begun, TJ was pronounced dead.
An announcement crackled over police radio shortly afterward.
TJ’s black sneakers were still lying in the middle of the street.
Investigators blocked off the scene. In white chalk, they drew a circle on the sidewalk about a foot or two from where TJ’s body was found, indicating where the shell casing from the fatal shot had been recovered.
Rain has since washed it away.