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Fatal police shooting of Joseph Santos was ‘not justified,’ officials say. Here’s what we know

Officials formally charged a Pennsylvania police officer Tuesday in the fatal shooting of 44-year-old Joseph “Joey” Santos, saying that his actions during a traffic encounter last month were “not justified.”

The shooting happened July 28 along a busy highway near Dorney Park in South Whitehall Township. The officer, Jonathan R. Roselle, responded to reports of a Latino man — later identified as Santos — interfering with traffic. He located Santos, who, according to video captured by bystanders, went on to hit and jump on the officer’s car. Santos failed to comply with the officer’s repeated demands, according to police, and Roselle fired his weapon five times.

Bystander videos of the shooting shortly emerged on social media afterward, prompting community officials to question the officer’s use of deadly force. The police shooting case also caught the attention of the local chapter of the NAACP, who called for the officer’s firing in a statement following the shooting.

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.

Officials said Roselle remains on administrative leave, while the investigation into the shooting continues.

Here’s what we know about what happened, what police and the community have said about the incident, and what’s next.

What happened?

Roselle was initially monitoring traffic when a woman came to him about a man who had approached and tried to enter her vehicle, police said. There was at least one other driver who told the officer that a Latino man was jumping on cars and interfering with traffic.

When Roselle encountered Santos, the officer found him bleeding. Martin said Roselle notified dispatchers of a man with possible mental issues and requested more units at the scene.

Several videos of the deadly encounter surfaced after the shooting. In one of the more prevalent videos posted to Facebook, Santos is seen walking away from Roselle and his vehicle. At some point, Santos struck the driver side of the officer’s SUV and jumped on the hood of the vehicle. Once off the hood, Santos continued to hit the side of the vehicle, eventually leaning on the SUV. Roselle ordered Santos during this time to back away from the SUV, Martin said.

Some of the bystander videos of the encounter captured this. They also captured Santos walking away from the Roselle’s vehicle and then turning back around to walk toward the officer. Roselle is heard yelling for Santos to “get on the ground,” but Santos does not comply. Shortly after, Roselle shot Santos five times. Santos is seen falling to the ground.

What the family says

Santos’ family members were spotted outside the courtroom crying when the district attorney held his news conference Tuesday, The Morning Call reported.

Afterward, Santos’ family held a news conference of their own, vowing to closely watch the case.

“This is just a hurdle right now,” Arlene Figueroa, the mother of one of Santos’ children, told reporters. “We got over this hurdle by the grace of God, And we’re going to keep getting over because we will have justice for Joey. As long as we have air in our lungs, we will fight for Joey. He didn’t deserve this,” he added, according to the Call.

Roselle graduated from the Allentown Police Academy last year and completed about 13 weeks of field training before being allowed to patrol by himself, the district attorney said Tuesday. The family questioned why Roselle didn’t shadow a more experienced officer for longer, the newspaper reported.

Family and community members held a vigil and protest last week, calling for answers about his death.

“We need to speak for him. He has a voice, he has all of our voices and we’re not going to stop ’til we have full justice,” Ruth Santos, Joey Santos’ former wife, said last week. “We see this on TV all the time, but never — not once — God, did I think this was going to happen to my family.”

What police say

When first asked about identifying the officer, the district attorney said he didn’t want to release information about the shooting “piecemeal.” But today, he confirmed several facts about the incident.

Martin acknowledged Santos’ “somewhat bizarre behavior.” But he also said that when Santos walked toward the officer again, “he was not running or rushing toward the officer. He did not have anything visible in his hands. He was not clenching his fists. He did not present a threatening posture. He was plainly not armed with any type of weapon.”

Martin also said Santos was heard saying “Don’t do it” before Roselle shot him. This was a detail that bystander videos didn’t appear to capture.

Though Santos failed to comply with the officer’s “legitimate” demands to get on the ground, Martin said, there is nothing objective that shows Roselle “was in danger of imminent serious, bodily injury or death.”

Roselle told the first responding officer immediately after the shooting that he thought he “f****d up,” and that he didn’t know what to do because Santos kept advancing toward him. He repeated his “f****d up” comment to his shift supervisor at the scene, Martin said.

After Santos’ death, family members and community leaders asked why the officer didn’t first use non-lethal force, like a Taser, to subdue him. Martin confirmed that Roselle was equipped with a baton, pepper spray and a Taser. All items were examined and found to be functional, he said.

What’s next?

The local NAACP chapter, in its statement calling for Roselle’s firing, also called for the district attorney to recuse himself from the investigation. The local branch honed in on a previous remark made by Martin who said the officer “had to use his weapon” against Santos.

The chapter said it believed that “there is an appearance of unfairness” in the investigation if Martin stays on. The district attorney addressed that concern today, saying the public remark was a “very poor” choice of words and not evidence of bias. He maintained that he was not going to recuse himself.

Martin also pushed back on those who said Santos’ death was the result of police brutality or that racism was involved, saying that “this investigation has disclosed no facts which would support those contentions.”

“In my opinion, 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.”

Officials said there are videos from the officer’s body camera as well as from his vehicle, but Martin said he was “ethically bound not to show them outside of court.”

Funeral services for Santos are being held in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, this week.

An internal investigation in Roselle’s actions is expected to be completed before the end of the criminal investigation into the shooting.

READ MORE: What we know about the police shooting death of Antwon Rose Jr.

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