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April 19, 2024

Former Philly cop pleads guilty to fatally shooting 12-year-old T.J. Siderio

Edsaul Mendoza, 29, was in plainclothes when he fired at the boy lying face down on the ground in March 2022.

Investigations Shootings
TJ Siderio Mendoza Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Former Philadlephia police officer Edsaul Mendoza pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the March 2022 shooting that killed 12-year-old T.J. Siderio.

Edsaul Mendoza, the former police officer who fatally shot 12-year-old T.J. Siderio two years ago in South Philly, pleaded guilty to his lesser charges of third-degree murder Friday and possession of an instrument of crime, the district attorney's office said.

Mendoza had been charged with murder following a grand jury investigation into the events that led up to the shooting on March 1, 2022. Siderio, a seventh-grade student at George Sharswood Elementary School, was face down on the ground and unarmed when Mendoza shot him. He became the youngest person ever killed in a shooting by a Philadelphia police officer.

That night, Mendoza was one of five plainclothes officers investigating a social media report about a teenager with a gun. The officers were sitting in a tinted, unmarked car, near 18th and Barbara streets, when they saw Siderio and another teen riding their bikes.

Just after police turned on the car's lights, Siderio fired shots into the rear windshield, causing glass to shatter into the eyes of one of the officers, investigators said. Mendoza and a second officer got out of the car and chased after Siderio, who ran toward Moyamensing Street. Both officers fired at Siderio, including two initial shots from Mendoza.

Prosecutors said Mendoza shouted for Siderio to get down in the moments after the boy dropped his weapon

Siderio was on the ground for several seconds before Mendoza fired the fatal shot from about half a car length away, according to investigators. The gun Siderio dropped was found at the scene about 40 feet from where he was shot. Investigators pieced together the timeline of events using video evidence, and they said Mendoza knew Siderio was unarmed because he indicated to another officer where to find the boy's gun.

Mendoza, 29, was a five-year veteran of the police department. He was fired weeks after the shooting for failing to follow protocols for the use of deadly force, former Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said at the time.

Two of the police officers who were in the car claimed they had stopped Siderio and the other teen because they were riding their bikes the wrong way down the street. Two others said the teens were part of a gun investigation. The grand jury noted that plainclothes officers are not permitted to make traffic stops of that nature and said the tactics that were used can lead to danger and confusion.

After Siderio's death, friends and family recalled him as a well-known kid who had a large group of friends, but who also had gotten mixed up in dangerous circles.

Friday's plea agreement came ahead of a trial that had been scheduled to begin in May. Mendoza is scheduled to be sentenced on July 22. 

The Philadelphia Citizens Police Oversight Commission, which monitors police practices for transparency and accountability, said the case demonstrates the need for "rigorous oversight" of the department.

"While this plea cannot bring T.J. back, we hope it will signal the close of a painful chapter his family and the community has experienced," the commission said in a statement.

Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp said the department is committed to building trust with communities in the city.

"This is a tragedy — and it is compounded by the fact that a life was taken by someone who swore an oath to uphold the law and protect the community," Gripp said.

In February, Siderio's family sued Mendoza and the city to seek damages "for the incalculable emotional and psychological losses" they suffered as a result of the shooting.