Allentown, PA – The South Whitehall Township police officer who was captured on video shooting a man who had been jumping on moving vehicles has been charged.
Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin announced at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle would be charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 44-year-old Joseph Santos.
The investigation into the shooting has not been completed yet.
Officer Roselle, 33, was arraigned on Aug. 7, WFMZ reported. He had graduated the police academy 9 months ago, is a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan, and is a major in the National Guard.
The incident that led to the shooting began at about 5:40 p.m. on July 28 when a woman approached Officer Roselle’s patrol unit, as he sat parked on a median of a roadway.
In a voice the district attorney described as “hysterical,” the woman told Officer Roselle that a man had jumped onto her moving vehicle, and that he was jumping on other cars in the middle of moving traffic near Dorney Park and the Comfort Suites motel, WFMZ reported.
Other witnesses to the man’s bizarre behavior called 911, and the dispatcher told responding officers that a caller “reported a male jumping on cars in front of Dorney Park.” The man was bleeding from the arm, the dispatcher said, according to Lehigh Valley Live.
In the first of a series of videos of the incident captured by witnesses, Santos can be seen clinging to the side of a white sedan as it drove down the road. The car appeared to be slowing down as the frightened driver tried to figure out what to do.
After Officer Roselle arrived on the scene, the video showed Santos standing beside the driver’s door of the police SUV, with his hand on the roof. The window appeared to be closed.
Officer Roselle drew his weapon inside the vehicle, pointed it at Santos, and ordered him to back away from the car, Martin said.
The video showed that Santos slapped the roof of the car, and then walked to the front of the police patrol SUV and climbed onto the hood.
The police vehicle began slowly moving as the man climbed up onto the windshield of the SUV, the video showed.
Then the video showed Santos leaning on the passenger side of the police vehicle as he stood in the grass on the side of the road, before he struck the side mirror and stalked off away from the SUV.
That’s when the officer got out of his police cruiser and ordered Santos to get on the ground.
The video showed Santos turned around and began walking back toward the officer, as the officer yelled at him four times to get on the ground.
The officer waited until Santos got to within feet of him – and was still coming at him – before he opened fired on him, the video showed.
Five shots were fired by the officer, according to WFMZ. Santos was transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest where he later died.
Martin told reporters that immediately following the shooting, Officer Roselle told the first responding officer to the scene that he thought he “f–ked up.”
About 100 protesters gathered on Wednesday evening near the spot where Santos was shot to protest the police officer’s use of force.
At the district attorney’s suggestion, South Whitehall Township police requested assistance of Pennsylvania State Police and their Lehigh County Task Force to investigate the officer-involved shooting, but the final decision on whether to press charges belonged to Martin.
Martin made his decision to indict Officer Roselle based on the fact that Santos had been walking, not rushing, at him and did not appear to be threatening, he told reporters at the press conference.
Santos was also unarmed, had no shoes, and was heard saying to Roselle to “not do it,” the district attorney said.
Martin claimed that although Santos refused to comply with the officer’s demands to “get down,” Officer Roselle was not in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.
A witness to the shooting posted defense of the officer on social media.
“Sooo yes I was there. Worst timing or best timing idk yet. Everyone is making it seem like this Joseph Santos man is an innocent man at the hands of a killer cop,” Nadia Elizabeth posted to her Facebook page on Thursday.
“Nooooo ladies and gentleman that is not the case,” she said.
“Joseph Santos is a man that jumped the Dorney park Fence onto the street (Hamilton Blvd) and assaulted 3 different cars. 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 added.
“I understand that those who are grieving want to demonize this officer whom was simply doing his job. I’m very sorry for your loss. I witnessed Joseph Santos act like a complete maniac and scare the lives of those behind the wheel. I was one of the many people who contacted the authorities to report this man,” Elizabeth said.
“I don’t wish death upon anyone but I sure as hell don’t wish for police officer to be demonized for doing his job,” she said.
Gavin Holihan, an attorney for Officer Roselle, released a statement that said his client’s use of force was justified for the situation.
“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,” Holihan wrote.
“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,” the attorney said in the statement.
Voluntary manslaughter is a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, Martin said.