South Whitehall Officer Charged w/Manslaughter: White Cop Shot Unarmed Latino Man to Death as He Slowly Walked Towards Him w/Hands at His Side

Officer Jonathan Roselle.jpg

From [HERE] and [HERE] In his final moments, Joseph Santos asked for help even as he frightened a motorist by jumping on her moving car on Hamilton Boulevard. That offense brought him face to face with a rookie South Whitehall Township police officer, whose order to “get on the ground” he ignored.

Walking toward Officer Jonathan Roselle, Santos, who clearly had no weapon, uttered his last words. “Don’t do it,” he pleaded, as Roselle unloaded five shots.

Seven months after joining the police department, Roselle, a 33-year-old Army veteran of Afghanistan, was charged Tuesday with voluntary manslaughter and surrendered to authorities.

At a news conference Tuesday, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin called Santos’ July 28 death unjustified, based on the findings of a state police investigation.

Roselle, who was hired in December and had been on patrol by himself for only five months, questioned his own actions immediately, according to court documents.

He told an officer and then a supervisor who arrived on the scene that he thought he “f---ed up,” the documents note.

Martin confirmed that Santos, 44, of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., was not armed.

He said police interviewed 11 witnesses, finding that Santos was jumping and pounding on cars and asking some motorists for help. Not everything Santos was saying was captured on the officer’s bodycam or car dashcam, Martin said, but he was heard pleading to Roselle, “Don’t do it,” before being shot.

The NAACP also called upon South Whitehall Township to fire him.

Calling Roselle “trigger happy,” Arlene Figueroa, the mother of one of Santos’ children, asked why he was allowed to work without a partner, given that he was too inexperienced to handle stressful situations.

He was charged by District Judge Michael Faulkner with one count of voluntary manslaughter — a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison — and released on $75,000 unsecured bail.

In a prepared statement, Roselle’s attorney Gavin Holihan, said, “Officer Roselle believes now, as he did on July 28, that his actions were justified and appropriate based on the facts and circumstances evident at the time. He respects the system of justice he has sworn to uphold and he eagerly awaits the opportunity to be heard at trial. He believes that when all of the evidence is presented publicly, any fair citizen will reach the same conclusion he reached: that the deadly force used on July 28 was justified and appropriate.”

South Whitehall Police Chief Glen Dorney said Roselle is on paid leave and that his department is conducting an internal investigation of the shooting.

At about 5:45 p.m. on July 28, several people called 911 about a man interfering with traffic. Videos circulating on social media show a shoeless man hanging onto a moving car. Martin said some vehicles were damaged, including one in which a window was ripped out.

According to court documents, Roselle was parked on the median on Hamilton Boulevard, monitoring traffic, when a hysterical woman pulled up beside him and reported that a man had tried to enter her car. He made a U-turn and saw a man who was bleeding and walking toward him. Roselle radioed for backup, telling dispatchers he may be dealing with a person with a mental issue. Before anyone else arrived, Santos banged on the driver side window, then climbed on the SUV’s hood and pounded in “slow lethargic motions” on the windshield, dislodging the SUV’s dashcam. The police cruiser continued moving slowly for several feet before stopping. Santos got off the hood and banged on the passenger window a few times before appearing exhausted as he leaned on the vehicle.

Roselle drew his 9 mm handgun while he was still sitting in the driver’s seat and pointed it at Santos after the first bang on his car window, the documents state. When Santos stopped banging, Roselle got out of the car and ordered him to back away from the vehicle, keeping the gun pointed at him.

In videos posted on social media, Santos is seen walking away from the stopped police cruiser, then reversing course as the officer shouts repeatedly for him to “get on the ground.” As he approaches Roselle, he slightly raises then lowers a hand.

Martin pointed out that Santos was walking, not running or rushing toward the officer. That nothing was in his hands, his fists were not clenched and his posture was not threatening, even as he faced Roselle’s gun. "Don't do it," Martin said Santos could be heard saying.

Five shots rang out and Santos collapsed to the ground. Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim later said Santos died of multiple gunshots, though he wouldn’t say how many hit him.

Officer Kevin Smith was the first to arrive and helped Roselle perform CPR on Santos.

As they did, Roselle told Smith he thought he “f---ed up,” court documents say. He told Smith he “didn’t know what to do” because Santos kept coming at him, the records say. When Sgt. Kevin Edelheiser arrived, Roselle again said that he thought he had messed up, adding that he should have just stayed in his vehicle but he thought Santos might go into traffic.

“This was an act of a relatively inexperienced officer who held a subjective fear for his own safety, but he made a decision which objectively was unreasonable in light of the facts,” Martin said.

Roselle, who was hired in December and had been on patrol by himself for only five months, questioned his own actions immediately, according to court documents.

He told an officer and then a supervisor who arrived on the scene that he thought he “f---ed up,” the documents note.

 

Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin told reporters in a news conference Tuesday that “in this case, there is no evidence that Mr. Santos was armed with any weapon and no evidence that he had committed or attempted a forcible felony.”

Officer Roselle, 33, who was on patrol by himself for fewer than five months, “killed under an unreasonable, mistaken belief that he was justified” in fatally shooting Santos, Martin added.