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Former Philadelphia police officer accused of killing 12-year-old TJ Siderio held for trial on murder charges

Former officer Edsaul Mendoza was ordered to stand trial on all charges, including first-degree and third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter for the killing of 12-year-old TJ Siderio.

Thomas Lawler, TJ Sidderio’s grandfather, holds his phone with a photo of his grandson visible, after the first hearing for Former Philadelphia Police Officer Edsaul Mendoza, outside the criminal justice center, in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Thomas Lawler, TJ Sidderio’s grandfather, holds his phone with a photo of his grandson visible, after the first hearing for Former Philadelphia Police Officer Edsaul Mendoza, outside the criminal justice center, in Philadelphia on Tuesday.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

A Philadelphia judge on Tuesday ordered the former Philadelphia police officer accused of killing 12-year-old Thomas “TJ” Siderio held for trial on first-degree murder and other charges.

After a more than three-hour preliminary hearing that featured video footage of the fatal shooting and testimony from a police officer who was on the scene, Municipal Court Judge Charles Hayden ruled that former officer Edsaul Mendoza should stand trial on all charges, including first-degree and third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Siderio was the youngest person ever killed by a city police officer.

» READ MORE: The short, tumultuous life of Thomas ‘TJ’ Siderio

District Attorney Larry Krasner charged Mendoza with murder two months after the March shooting. Prosecutors on Tuesday called the shooting a “deliberate” killing of an unarmed child.

Mendoza’s lawyer argued in court that it was a “justified use of police deadly force.” The former officer, who was fired after the shooting, is being held in jail without bail as he awaits trial.

Mendoza only spoke during Tuesday’s hearing to respond to some of Hayden’s questions. He appeared to get emotional at times, particularly while prosecutors played surveillance footage that showed the events surrounding the fatal shooting.

Family and friends of TJ, including his mother, Desirae Frame, and grandfather Thomas Lawler, sat on one side of the courtroom, wearing sweatshirts with TJ’s face on it. Mendoza’s family sat on the other side.

Prosecutors spent hours presenting evidence from the chaotic night of March 1, when TJ and a 17-year-old were riding bikes near 18th and Barbara Streets.

Four plainclothes officers in an unmarked car were staking out the area after seeing a social media post that showed a teen with one gun in his pants pocket and another gun at his feet.

The officers — identified as Mendoza, Kwaku Sarpong, Robert Cucinelli, and Alexander Camacho — were part of the South Task Force, a tactical unit that uses social media and on-the-ground surveillance to find and seize illegal guns and arrest suspected felons across South Philadelphia.

The four officers pulled up to the teens that night because they believed the 17-year-old with TJ was “tangentially connected” to a stolen gun case, according to the investigation records. As they activated their emergency lights, the records say, TJ shot at the car, shattering the rear window and piercing through a passenger’s headrest.

» READ MORE: Conflicting accounts emerge over police shooting of 12-year-old boy, the youngest person fatally shot by Philly police in decades

Shards of glass injured the face of Camacho, whom Sarpong said screamed at the top of his lungs that he had been shot.

Sarpong testified that the unit had not received any information that TJ or the teen with him had guns that night , and that the officers had been looking for the third teen who had posted photos of guns. The teen boy with TJ was a known associate of the boy they were looking for and had also previously posted an Instagram Live brandishing a gun, Sarpong testified.

Other officers testified about the evidence the department gathered from Barbara Street, a residential street enclosed by 18th Street and Moyamensing Avenue. Prosecutors played surveillance footage that showed someone in dark clothing — identified as TJ — running down Barbara toward Moyamensing, with a person identified as Mendoza running after him.

Five shots are heard on the footage played in court.

TJ runs down the sidewalk while Mendoza runs down the street after him, before Mendoza quickly runs across the street, through two closely parked cars onto the sidewalk, as another shot is heard.

The area where TJ was found dead is obscured in the footage by a pickup truck.

Prosecutors said that TJ was unarmed when he was shot and that after Mendoza yelled for TJ to drop the gun, the sound of the gun hitting the ground can be heard in video footage.

The Taurus 9mm that TJ allegedly had was found between the white car’s tire and the curb, prosecutors said.

Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, testified as an expert witness Tuesday and said that Mendoza’s decision to chase TJ was “tactically reckless,” opening him up to being shot.

In his closing argument, Raymond Driscoll, one of Mendoza’s attorneys, said that there was no “malice” in Mendoza’s decision to shoot TJ and that the blink-of-an-eye decision by a police officer was hard to question.

“That’s why he’s there. He’s not hassling people on bicycles,” said Driscoll. “He’s getting guns off streets so people can go outside and enjoy their neighborhood.”

Assistant District Attorney Clarke Beljean argued that Mendoza failed to reassess the situation and that Mendoza could be heard yelling out the location where TJ had thrown the gun, which he said showed Mendoza knew TJ was unarmed at the time he shot him.

“That is willful. That is deliberate,” said Beljean.

After the hearing, TJ’s and Mendoza’s families declined to comment, as did prosecutors and Mendoza’s attorneys.

Mendoza’s arraignment is scheduled for later this month.