SOUTH WHITEHALL TOWNSHIP, Pa. – A rookie police officer from the Lehigh Valley faces a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of an unarmed man near Dorney Park last month, reported NBC New York.
South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle, 33, was charged Tuesday with one count of voluntary manslaughter, unreasonable belief, in the shooting death of Joseph Santos on July 28, said Jim Martin, district attorney for the central Pennsylvania county.
That evening, Santos was reportedly interfering with traffic along Route 222 near Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. According to witnesses, the man damaged cars and, at one point, ripped the window out of a vehicle. As a result, police were summoned.
Roselle responded to the scene and confronted Santos. Authorities said the officer told Santos several times to stand down before he opened fire.
Consequently, Santos, 44, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, was struck at least once. He was taken to Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest Hospital where he died from his injuries.
Roselle was in his first year as a police officer after graduating from the police academy in December 2017. He was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, Martin said. The 33-year-old officer served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and is a major in the National Guard.
After the shooting, Roselle told other officers who responded to the scene that he “f***ed up” and thought Santos was coming at him, according to Martin.
However, defense attorneys said in a statement that Roselle believes his actions were justified and appropriate given the circumstances.
Several Facebook users posted a witness’ video of the police-involved shooting. The video showed Santos walking toward a police vehicle and an officer is heard repeatedly telling him to get on the ground.
Ignoring the officer’s commands, Santos continued walking toward the vehicle as the sound of gunfire erupted. The man then fell to the ground.
An investigation found that Santos was walking toward and not rushing toward the officer, Martin said.
Santos wasn’t complying with the officer’s demands and could be heard saying “don’t do it” before the officer opened fire, Martin said.
Martin said evidence shows the unarmed man posed no danger to the officer. The DA also said prosecutors do not believe race was a factor. Santos is Hispanic and of Puerto Rican descent while Roselle is white.
Later, a second set of videos surfaced showing a man later identified by police as Santos, hanging off of moving cars and jumping onto the hood of a police SUV.
In a Facebook post alongside those videos, Nadia Elizabeth said Santos jumped a fence around Dorney Park and interfered with three cars as they rolled down the busy highway.
“He didn’t exit the park like a rational member of society but more of that of a criminal that was up to no good,” she wrote. “I witnessed Joseph Santos act like a complete maniac and scare the lives of those behind the wheel.”
Although the prosecutor said Santos posed no danger to the officer, people witnessing the bizarre actions of the man saw it differently. The question will remain, what level of danger was actually present?
Just a few weeks ago a person fighting with police along Interstate 10 near Phoenix took an officer’s gun and shot two Arizona state troopers, killing one of them. Trooper Tyler Edenhofer was murdered by a man who was previously unarmed. People need to remember there is always the chance for an unarmed combatant to arm himself when fighting with police. It is unknown whether that will play a factor in this case, but it is feasible.
Furthermore, a Massachusetts police officer described as a “great family man and officer” died last month after a man attacked him with a rock, then took his weapon and shot him in the head and chest. Weymouth Officer Michael Chesna was killed in the vicious attack by a man who was previously “unarmed.”
So as you can see, these events are not as clear as uninvolved parties portray. Would either Edenhofer or Chesna be charged with manslaughter had they shot their attackers before they were murdered? Although no two circumstances are the same, anyone who wants to crucify Roselle should be required to face the same situation before casting judgment. Unfortunately, there is no chance of that happening.
Some might say the officer’s spontaneous statement about “f-ing up” is evidence of guilt. Actually, the comment can be argued either way. The statement could also be the sign of a man with a conscience who was just involved in a deadly situation and doesn’t yet realize that his actions followed what his survival instinct determined to be necessary. Yet the gravity of the situation fell upon him like an avalanche of guilt, which is not without explanation, even during justified shootings.
Officials continue to investigate the incident and urge witnesses to come forward.
Roselle surrendered and was arraigned Tuesday. He was subsequently released on $75,000 unsecured bail, reported The Morning Call.