SEFFNER, Fla. (WFLA) – In what the state attorney says appears to be a case of racial profiling, a Seffner man was charged this month for illegally detaining an African American teenager on his way to basketball practice.
The office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren has filed a false imprisonment charge against 54-year-old Luis Santos. He was arrested Saturday.
According to the office, the unidentified teenager was headed to basketball practice on his bicycle at 5:34 a.m. on June 9 along Lake Shore Ranch Drive. Santos is accused of stopping the teenager and holding him against his will.
“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 an email. “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.”
Cell phone video provided to 8 On Your Side shows Santos pull up to the teen and tell him, “you’re not going anywhere.” The man grills the teen about his address and asks why he is on his bicycle so early in the morning.
“You’re being detained,” the man says in the video that he recorded.
He then gets out of his vehicle and detains the boy.
“I’m sorry,” the teen says.
“You’re sorry?” Santos asks.
Later, Santos called 911 and said, “I have somebody breaking into cars. We have it on video.”
When a 911 operator asks the teen’s race, the man replies, “he’s a Black guy.”
The teen was never accused of that crime, the state attorney’s office said.
“You stay right where you at!” the man yells at the teen, as heard on the 911 call.
“I think he stole one of the bikes,” Santos said to the 911 operator.
He later identified himself to the 911 operator as an off-duty officer.
“What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community,” Warren said in a statement to 8 On Your Side. “We have skilled police officers. We don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street.”
According to prosecutors, Santos also compelled the teen to put his hands up and held his hand near his pocket, perhaps attempting to indicate that he had a gun.
“The victim was visibly shaken and hyperventilating when deputies arrived, with his hands still over his head,” Warren’s office said. “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.”
After the incident, a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy hooked up the teen’s bicycle and drove him to practice, Warren said.
The victim was interviewed by prosecutors on July 20. The next day, Warren himself approved the charge against Santos.
False imprisonment is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison if convicted.
“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 said in an interview with 8 On Your Side.
The teenager involved in the incident has retained an attorney and has requested to remain anonymous.
Former WWE Star Titus O’Neil is a spokesman for the teen’s family. He sent the following statement to 8 On Your Side:
“I am speaking and advocating as a friend and supporter of a young Black teenager who was the victim of a racial profiling incident by a private citizen in Seffner, Florida. The victim is a very respectful young man who is an excellent student-athlete preparing to go to college in the fall. The two things most important to myself and the family are:
- The victim’s privacy and safety, and the privacy and safety of the victim’s family; and…
- That justice be served by holding the perpetrator accountable for his inappropriate and unlawful conduct.
I understand that Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and State Attorney Andrew Warren have investigated this matter and charges have been filed. I trust and believe that both the Sheriff and State Attorney are committed to seeing that justice will be served.
It is our sincere hope and desire that the outcome from this situation will show that there is zero tolerance for racial profiling and harassment in Hillsborough County, and that zero tolerance will extend throughout our State and our Country. As a father of two sons, please join me in working to end this and all other forms of discrimination. The racial profiling of innocent African American children must be stopped. This must never happen again to anyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.
Last, we ask that you respect the victim and the family’s privacy as law enforcement handles this matter.”
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