A Pennsylvania police officer who shot an unarmed man five times in broad daylight outside an amusement park will face voluntary manslaughter charges, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin said in a press conference Tuesday that Officer Jonathan Roselle, 33, was not justified in his decision to shoot Joseph “Joey” Santos on July 28.
Santos, 44, who is of Puerto Rican descent and a father of three, spent that day at the amusement park near Allentown, Pennsylvania with his girlfriend celebrating the birthdays of two of her teenage sons.
Santos left the park without telling his girlfriend Juliana Valenzuela. At first she assumed he’d gone to buy cigarettes. But then hours passed and she became frantic, she told local news outlets, eventually filing a missing person report when the park closed, and later drove back to New Jersey, where they lived, without him. It wasn’t until the next morning she found out he’d been shot dead by police.
South Whitehall Township police were responding to a 911 call reporting “suspicious activity” – specifically, a hispanic male jumping on cars outside Dorney Park, a 104-year-old amusement park outside Allentown, Pa.. District Attorney Martin said that Santos had behaved bizarrely, interfering with traffic, trying to hang onto driving cars, ripping out one window in the process.
Police arrived on scene at 5:45 p.m.
In a video recorded by a bystander, Santos is seen with his hands on the roof of the police cruiser, leaning down as if he’s speaking to the officer inside. Martin said Tuesday that Santos was bleeding at the time, and asking for help, according to witnesses. Santos banged on the cruiser, and tried to climb on the windshield.
Officer Roselle ordered Santos to get away from the vehicle. In the video, you see Santos walking away. Roselle gets out of the vehicle, and shouts “get down on the ground.” Santos walks back towards the patrol car, with his hands clearly visible, swinging beside him. ”Get down on the ground,” Roselle shouts again. Santos puts his hands up but keeps walking. Seconds later, Roselle opens fire on Santos, shooting him five times.
Santos was transported to hospital, and was pronounced dead at 6.08 p.m.
Martin, Lehigh County D.A., said in a news conference Tuesday that Roselle knew Santos was not armed when he opened fire, and acted on the “unreasonable mistaken belief that he was justified in doing so.” Roselle, according to Martin, told responding officers that he’d “fucked up” after the shooting.
Martin also said that Roselle is a rookie cop, who joined the force last December after serving in the military, which included a tour in Afghanistan. He said that he believes Roselle, who is white, shot Santos out of lack of experience, not racial animus, as protesters initially suspected.
If convicted, Roselle could face up to 20 years in prison.
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