The morning after police filled his body with lead, officers watched the tattooed suspect in a west Valley hospital bed closely, worried he would launch another one of his famous escapes.
But after four hectic, headline-making days evading police, culminating in a late-afternoon hail of bullets and a mauling by a K9 officer on a rural county property in Buckeye, 35-year-old Christopher Mendoza was only somewhat conscious and in no condition to pull any tricks.
A doctor came into the room to check on his patient's multiple wounds. As he lifted Mendoza's head, the officers stationed in the room saw a bullet fragment fall from the suspect's skull. One of the officer's retrieved the fragment and put it in a container for the evidence locker.
It was one of at least eight bullets that hit Mendoza during the violent takedown and arrest in December 2019 that ended the high-profile manhunt for him.
His mother, Jodi Mendoza, now claims that her son was intentionally brutalized by police, who she theorizes were angry he had given them the slip repeatedly.
"There was no need to shoot him that many times," she said. Siccing a police dog on him after he was shot and stomping on his chest while he was badly wounded "was absolutely uncalled for."
Bodycam video of the December 23, 2019, incident was provided by Jodi Mendoza and has not yet been made available by police agencies to the news media. It shows that a gauntlet of officers shot at Mendoza repeatedly with rifles and handguns as he drove a stolen truck toward one of the officers who had him surrounded. When he pulled his blood-drenched body out of a truck window and slumped to the ground, police directed a K9 to attack him when he wouldn't show that his hands were empty. Mendoza continued to resist feebly while officers tried to handcuff him, causing one officer to stomp on his chest.
Jodi Mendoza also provided Phoenix New Times with several police reports on the case that had been obtained by a lawyer previously hired by the family. She said she hoped to inform the public about her son's treatment and that she wished to find a lawyer who would help her family sue the police in federal court. They already missed the deadlines to sue in state court, she said.
Whether the family has a legitimate grievance is another story. But as the nation continues to examine police violence, some see even the shooting of a violent criminal as an avoidable tragedy.
New Times compiled the most relevant bodycam footage from officers at the scene for the video embedded in this article. (Warning: Parts of the video are violent and graphic.) The video shows that heavy force was used against Mendoza at the Buckeye property, and that it's possible Mendoza was not lying when he claimed he had lost the use of his arms after being shot. He had at least eight to 10 gunshot wounds, according to one officer's count at the scene.
Mendoza apparently didn't use a gun he had on him during his final confrontation with police. But as the video also shows, after four days of being hunted for his alleged reckless and illegal possession of a firearm, he was hell-bent on not giving up.
Four Days on the Run
The alleged crime that led to the manhunt and shooting occurred about 1:30 a.m. on December 20, 2019, when Mendoza went to the Walmart at 1100 North Estrella Parkway with a gun to find his girlfriend, who he had reportedly threatened to kill. One Walmart employee said that Mendoza said he was going to "start shooting." Extensive police reports by Buckeye and Goodyear police that Jodi Mendoza gave to New Times explain in detail what happened over the next few days.
An officer who was sent to help the woman and find Mendoza spotted him with a gun at the store, but Mendoza ran from him, causing the Walmart to be evacuated. His girlfriend, Natalie Paredes, was uncooperative with police.
Mendoza ran on foot to a nearby neighborhood, where he encountered a man who was unloading items from his trunk. The man, whose name was not redacted from the report obtained by Mendoza's mother but is being withheld by New Times, told police that Mendoza pulled a black gun from his pocket, racked the slide, and ordered him to drive them to a location in Buckeye. Mendoza spent the rest of the night doing drugs and hanging out with friends at the Premier Inns motel in Tolleson.
Police identified a vehicle belonging to one of Mendoza's acquaintances and tracked it to the motel later in the afternoon on December 20. They knew Mendoza had gone into one of the rooms, and hotel staff showed police a fast-forwarded video that indicated the suspect had never left. Cops raided the room, finding two people and a black Ruger handgun in a toilet tank, but not Christopher Mendoza. Police reviewed the surveillance video again, but this time slower — and saw that Mendoza had left the motel at some point in a silver van.
The van belonged to Jodi Mendoza and her husband, Oscar. Jodi told New Times that when Chris called and told her he was in Tolleson, she sent another son in the van to get him.
Police say Christopher Mendoza's a member of the Cashion Park Locos, an Avondale gang, and that fellow gang members repeatedly helped Mendoza during his time on the run. Jodi Mendoza downplayed his alleged gang affiliation to New Times, saying he may have run with the gang as a teen, but not as an adult. State records show that Christopher Mendoza has served two previous prison terms, including a 6.5-year prison sentence he received for an aggravated assault. He had only been released a few months before the manhunt and shooting.
On December 21, 2019, detectives interviewed Jodi Mendoza, who told them "her son will shoot it out with police."
The next day, police learned from a confidential informant that Christopher Mendoza was holding Paredes against her will at a residence in Avondale, and they traced Mendoza's Facebook login to a home in the city. She was found outside the home and arrested, and Mendoza was spotted looking out of a window.
As a surveillance detail watched the home, a white SUV pulled up. Mendoza got into the vehicle. Police pursued it into the Cashion neighborhood of Avondale. Mendoza jumped out and ran; an officer said he could see Mendoza loading a black handgun as he ran. Mendoza apparently forced his way into a home and pretended he had a hostage, demanding that police throw him a phone for negotiations. Meanwhile, police were able to contact the homeowner, who wasn't at home.
As the standoff unfolded, police heard multiple gunshots go off in the area. Crowds of people also showed up, including self-described family members of Mendoza, who police say were trying to distract them in a bid to help Mendoza. One officer described how a Buick sedan raced up to his position, and the young man behind the wheel began berating him: "You fuck with one of us, you fuck with us all."
Mendoza played with the cops for hours, reportedly opening a propane tank and disconnecting a gas line to the stove, threatening to blow up the home. Worried cops could smell the gas. At one point, Mendoza emerged from the home, pointing his gun to his head. The gun was attached by a string to a bottle he was holding, so that if cops tased him, he would drop the bottle and kill himself. Police restrained themselves from shooting him.
Mendoza eventually ran out of the home, eluding the surrounding police. Police spent the following day, December 23, tracking him down again. That afternoon, an officer spotted Mendoza on foot in Buckeye.
Takedown and Aftermath
Police descended on the location near Lower Buckeye Road and Verrado Way.
As the bodycam video shows, an officer spots Mendoza trying to steal a pest control company's pickup truck, one of several on the property. Multiple officers surround the area and prepare to engage him. Mendoza rolls the truck slowly through an alley, yelling falsely that he has a kid in the car. Then he steps on the gas, sending the truck careening toward one of the officers.
Reports state that at least three officers discharged their weapons, though the video makes it look like more did. It's unclear how many rounds were fired, but as mentioned, Mendoza was apparently hit at least eight times.
Mendoza pleads for help in the truck as officers yell at him to show them his hands and come out, the video shows. Finally, he pushes himself out of a window and walks stiffly, his arms, hanging down, to a fence, where he sits down and falls to one side. Cops yell at him to show his hands. One officer says it looks like his hand is moving toward his waistband, and the command is given to sic the dog on Mendoza. The suspect lets loose with several primal screams as the dog bites him in the head area and drags him several feet through the dirt.
As officers move in and begin life-saving techniques, one orders the suspect to roll on his stomach. "He can't — he's fucked up," another officer says.
While trying to handcuff him, an officer steps forcefully on Mendoza's back. Yet with the scene under control, the officers seem to treat Mendoza respectfully and work hard to perform first aid. A rescue helicopter later arrives and paramedics help treat Mendoza before taking him to a hospital. Buckeye police confirmed that his black gun was found in the truck, though it can't be seen in any of the videos.
Jodi Mendoza said her son later told her that one of the paramedics visited Christopher in jail because he wanted to meet the "miracle man." New Times couldn't confirm the story, but it's obvious from the bodycam video that Christopher Mendoza is lucky to be alive. His mother said he's able to walk but has lost hearing in one ear and his blurry vision in an eye. He has post-traumatic stress disorder and wakes up screaming sometimes, she said.
On January 6, Christopher Mendoza told police that he knew he wasn't legally allowed to have a gun because of his prior felonies. He named a friend who he said bought him the gun at Cabela's. And he confessed to pulling a gun on a man after the Walmart incident to get a ride. At his brother's house before the shooting, he said, his friends tried to stop him from leaving because "he was ready to die ... ready for this to end."
Mendoza's been in jail ever since, where he's gotten substandard medical treatment and harsh treatment from correctional officers who view him as someone who tried to kill cops, his mother said.
In January of this year, initial charges against Mendoza were dismissed and a grand jury indicted Mendoza on 17 felony counts related to the four-day incident. Charges include multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, discharging a firearm at a residence, prohibited possession of a weapon, kidnapping, and disorderly conduct with a weapon. He's also being prosecuted for an unrelated set of crimes including kidnapping and firing a gun in city limits that occurred on December 5, 2019.
Because Mendoza's shooting occurred on a county island, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation. The office couldn't say this week if its criminal investigation into Mendoza was complete. The MCSO will also determine whether the officers involved committed any crimes. Once their investigation is complete, Buckeye will conduct an internal review "to determine if proper policy and procedure were followed," said Buckeye PD spokesperson Donna Rossi. Goodyear police spokeswoman Lisa Berry declined to comment on the case.
Jodi Mendoza said she believes "there's a reason" her son was given another chance at life.
"Don't blow it a second time," she told him.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.