A Seffner man who illegally detained a Black teenager headed to basketball practice on his bike on suspicion of theft has been charged with false imprisonment. During the tense encounter, the suspect, identified as Luis Santos, also allegedly claimed he was an off-duty officer, which was false.
According to WFLA, the incident, which state attorney, Andrew Warren, said appears to be a case of racial profiling, happened in the early hours of June 9 when the unidentified teenager was riding his bike along Lake Shore Ranch Drive and was stopped and questioned by Santos.
In a cell phone video recorded by the suspect, he can be seen catching up with the teenager and asking if he works or lives in the neighborhood. The teen tells him where he lives and provides his address upon request, but Santos goes ahead to detain the teen, telling him: “You’re not going anywhere.”
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“You’re being detained,” Santos says in the video, to which the teen replies and says, “I’m sorry.”
Santos subsequently called 911 and told the operator, “I have somebody breaking into cars. We have it on video.” The suspect also told the operator the teen is a “Black guy” when he was asked his race, WFLA reports. According to the state attorney, the teen wasn’t accused of being behind those crimes.
Santos, who also told the 911 operator he was an off-duty officer, yelled at the teen while on the call, telling him, “You stay right where you at!” and also told the operator, “I think he stole one of the bikes.”
“The evidence shows the victim had not committed any crime and Santos made misleading statements to law enforcement about what he had witnessed,” Warren’s office said in a statement. “The young man felt threatened and was not free to leave, while Santos acted as though he had the legal authority of a law enforcement officer, including compelling the victim to put his hands in the air until sheriff’s deputies arrived.”
In a statement to WFLA, Warren said: “What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community. We have skilled police officers. We don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street.”
During the encounter, prosecutors allege Santos forced the teen to put his hands up while he (Santos) had his hand near his pocket, trying to suggest he was armed. When officers arrived at the scene, they concluded the teen – who was visibly shaken, did nothing wrong. Officers only found a basketball, a jump rope and gym shoes when they searched his backpack, WFTS reports.
“The victim was visibly shaken and hyperventilating when deputies arrived, with his hands still over his head,” Warren’s office said, WFLA reports. “He reasonably believed his life may be in jeopardy if he tried to leave or even move. Santos had no lawful authority to restrain a person in a public place and his own recorded words establish that he was restraining the victim, by threat, against his will.”
To help calm the distraught teen, officers hooked his bike to the patrol car and gave him a ride to his basketball practice. Santos, who was arrested on Saturday, faces up to five years in prison if found guilty.
“We don’t want people taking the law into their own hands. We charged the case here because there is evidence he committed a crime and because it serves the purpose of showing that we’re not going to tolerate vigilantes, who are accosting people, especially when they’re doing it just based on how that person looks,” Warren told WFLA.