South Whitehall Township, PA – More than 100 people rallied on Sunday in support of the Pennsylvania police officer who was recorded on video shooting a man who had been jumping on moving vehicles.
Supporters carried signs that read “Let police do their job,” wore pro-police t-shirts, and waved Thin Blue Line flags as they protested the district attorney’s decision to charge the officer, according to The Morning Call.
On Aug. 7, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin charged South Whitehall Township Officer Jonathan Roselle with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of 44-year-old Joseph Santos.
Officer Roselle, 33, graduated from the police academy only nine months ago, is a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan, and is a major in the National Guard.
Mike Cepress attended the rally and told The Morning Call he wanted to see Officer Roselle acquitted of the charge.
“The police officer had direct contact with him,” Cepress said. “He looked him in the eyes. He heard what he was saying. He was there giving the individual commands and was completely ignored.”
“You can’t crucify a police officer when he’s trying to do his job,” he said.
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.
The police supporters who rallied near the spot where the shooting occurred said they believed the officer was wrongly charged and that Santos was partly responsible for his own death, The Morning Call reported.
“In a split second he had to make such a decision on a busy road like this,” Peggy Karpeuk, who wore a pro-police t-shirt and carried a large Thin Blue Line flag, told The Morning Call, as she pointed to Hamilton Boulevard.
Rodney Afflerbach and Richard Deibert said they blamed Santos and that they’ve taught their children to follow a police officer’s orders.
Afflerbach said he felt the voluntary manslaughter charge was “harsh … unless we don’t know something [authorities] know.”
The event was peaceful until Allentown resident Valerie Chambers showed up at about 3:30 p.m. and began screaming that the police supporters were rallying for a murderer.
“All you want to do is divide America,” she spouted at Cepress, after she called him “blue ISIS.”
“You are promoting hatred,” Cepress responded, according to The Times News.
Officer Roselle was arraigned on Aug. 7 and, if convicted, could face up to 20 years in prison.
The district attorney has said that because Santos was not armed or committing a felony, deadly force was not necessary.
“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, according to The Morning Call.