An inexperienced police officer made an “unreasonable” decision in shooting and killing a Hasbrouck Heights man who’d jumped on the hood of his marked SUV near Dorney Park in Pennsylvania, authorities there said Tuesday.
As a result, they’ve brought voluntary manslaughter charges against South Whitehall Township Officer Jonathan Roselle for the fatal July 28 shooting of Joseph Santos, a 44-year-old Paterson native who, records show, had recently moved to a garden apartment near the Hackensack border.
Roselle shot Santos five times on the side of the road, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said during a news conference Tuesday.
"This was the act of a relatively inexperienced officer, who held a subjective fear for his own safety, but made a decision which objectively was unreasonable in light of the facts as they existed and appeared at the time he discharged his weapon and killed Mr. Santos," Martin said.
Evidence against the officer includes dashboard and body camera footage, he said.
Roselle was released on $75,000 unsecured bond following an arraignment Tuesday.
A 33-year-old Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, had been on single patrol for barely five months after being graduated from the police academy and receiving 13 weeks of field training, the district attorney said.
Defense attorney Gavin Holihan issued a statement that read, in part: "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."
Arlene Figueroa, who had a child with Santos, told reporters Tuesday that she hadn’t made funeral arrangements – adding that a closed casket was necessary because he was shot in the face.
Although Figueroa said she didn’t wish the officer any harm, she emphasized that the family will follow the case closely to make sure that justice is served.
Drivers had notified police after Santos apparently jumped a fence
at Dorney Park and hung onto a woman’s moving car before falling off, a witness said.
Roselle later found a bleeding Santos, who can be seen in a video posted by another driver on Facebook banging on the police vehicle’s window and jumping on the hood.
Martin said Roselle called in to report the “somewhat bizarre behavior” before Santos began walking away.
He then turned around, the district attorney said, and headed back toward the officer – who ordered him to get on the ground.
"He was not running or rushing toward the officer,” Martin said. “He did not have anything visible in hands, he was not clenching his fists, he did not present a threatening posture. He was plainly not armed with any type of weapon.”
“Don’t do it,” Santos is heard saying to Roselle, who’d pointed his service weapon at him, the district attorney said.
The officer then fired, hitting Santos five times, he said.
Santos was later pronounced dead at Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Roselle eventually was charged with voluntary manslaughter because he acted out of an “unreasonable” belief that he was "in danger of imminent seriously bodily injury or death" and that deadly force was necessary, Martin said.
There was no malice involved, he said, noting that Roselle also had a stun gun, pepper spray and a baton.
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