As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court weighs arguments over the constitutionality of a state law that gives police wider latitude to shoot fleeing suspects, last Tuesday's fatal shooting of a 12-year-old boy by Philadelphia police will add fuel to the controversy, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Police shot Thomas Siderio in the back as he ran from plainclothes officers. Police said the officers were attempting to question a 17-year-old when someone fired a bullet through their car's rear passenger window. Two officers jumped out and opened fire. Police said Siderio was holding a gun as he ran.
“The fact alone that a person was shot in the back certainly looks bad,” said Anthony Erace, the executive director of the civilian-run Police Advisory Commission. “But the totality of the circumstances has to be considered before any judgments can be made.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1986 case Tennessee v. Garner that it is “constitutionally unreasonable” for police officers to use deadly force to stop a suspect who has committed a felony from escaping. But Pennsylvania law states that officers are justified in using deadly force if a suspect “has committed or attempted a forcible felony, or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon. …” The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has argued the state Supreme Court should declare that portion of the state law unconstitutional, but the court has not yet rule on that question. In the latest case, conflicting claims have emerged about the circumstances surrounding the shooting. The mother of the 17-year-old says her son claims the police did not turn on their emergency lights or identify themselves as police before any shots were fired. She claimed the boys were afraid someone in the unmarked car was about to attack them.