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No criminal charges for Mesa officers who fatally shot unarmed 21-year-old

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has notified Mesa police that prosecutors don't intend to file criminal charges against the officers who shot Angel Benitez.

MESA, Ariz. — Editor's Note: The above video is from an earlier broadcast.

Prosecutors don't intend to file criminal charges against the Mesa police officers who fatally shot an unarmed 21-year-old in 2020.

Angel Benitez died on Sept. 25, 2020, during a standoff with police in a parking lot near Evergreen Road and University Drive. Police claim Benitez had his hands on his head and suddenly moved his hands to his waist, prompting five officers to fire several lethal and less-lethal rounds. 

A weapon was not found in Benitez's possession, according to the Tempe Police Department, who investigated the shooting. 

His family has a civil lawsuit that's pending in court against the city of Mesa. They claim police officers fired 28 shots at the deceased. 

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office sent a letter to Mesa police last month, notifying the agency that prosecutors believed "officers did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution" and stated no further explanation.  

When asked how prosecutors reached their decision, a spokesperson for MCAO referred 12 News to the letter it sent to Mesa police.

Events leading up to shooting

On the morning of Sept. 25, Mesa police officers were dispatched to the parking lot outside a Panda Express to conduct a welfare check on a man slumped over in his car. 

Officer Brandon Delong told investigators he ran the vehicle's license plate number and discovered the car had been reported stolen. 

After receiving this information, Delong said he and other officers backed up their patrol cars and proceeded to attempt to make a "high-risk stop." 

The car's occupant became aware of their presence and started up the vehicle. The police proceeded to pursue the stolen car through Mesa. 

Officers later located the stolen car near a multi-family housing complex and attempted to get Benitez to exit the vehicle. 

Benitez was initially compliant to the police commands by putting his hands on his head and opening the car door when asked, police said. 

But the situation suddenly turned deadly when Benitez allegedly moved his hand toward his waist. 

"It appeared as though he might be trying to grab a firearm," Delong told a Tempe police investigator, according to an audio recording obtained by 12 News.

A series of shots were fired at the vehicle by at least five officers.  

"The whole windshield and driver's window, from what I can see, is just shattered glass at this point," Delong, who didn't fire his weapon, told Tempe police.

Delong confirmed that he did not see a weapon in Benitez's possession at any point. Benitez was taken to the hospital and doctors pronounced him deceased.

The aftermath 

Tempe police told Benitez's family there wasn't much body-camera footage that captured a clear picture of the shooting. 

At least three officers had their cameras recording but the view was obstructed by how their bodies were angled.  

"The ways that the cameras were positioned, a lot of it was blocked by their rifles being up," a Tempe detective told the family. 

The family filed a notice of claim last year, seeking $15 million from Mesa over Benitez's death. Attorneys for the family have said officers used an excessive amount of force to detain the 21-year-old. 

"Benitez had surrendered and was complying and had no weapons on him, so it is unclear why there was such a rush to use lethal and non-lethal force against him," according to the family's notice of claim.

It's rare for prosecutors in Maricopa County to file criminal charges against police officers. 

Out of the 54 officer-involved shooting cases submitted to MCAO in 2020, nearly all have been cleared and a few are still awaiting a decision, public records show.

RELATED: Police board chooses not to take action against former Mesa cop for 2019 shooting

RELATED: Phoenix police shoots, kills man barricaded in his car

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