Florida man charged with false imprisonment of black teenager

A former Florida security guard has been accused of detaining a Black teenager as he was biking to an early-morning basketball practice, and then calling the police on the boy to accuse him of breaking into cars in a suspected case of racial profiling.

Luis Santos Santiago, 54, was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail over the weekend on a charge of false imprisonment stemming from his run-in with the 18-year-old boy that took place in early June in Seffner.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office on Wednesday released video purportedly showing Santos, who is Hispanic, following the Black teen in his car before dawn, pestering him with questions and not letting the boy leave.

A screenshot from a cellphone video shows Luis Santos Santiago, 54, stopping an 18-year0old Black boy biking to basketball practice in Florida and detaining him against his will

‘You live here?’ Santos asks the boy on the bike while slowly driving alongside him.

‘Yes,’ he replies.

‘Where?’ Santos inquires.

‘I live right there,’ the teen says.

Not satisfied with his response, Santos demands that the boy give him his exact address, which he does.

Santos, a former theme park security guard working in sales, has been charged with false imprisonment after accusing the teen of being a thief and calling the police on him

Santos, a former theme park security guard working in sales, has been charged with false imprisonment after accusing the teen of being a thief and calling the police on him

‘You’re not going anywhere,’ Santos declares before exiting his vehicle. ‘You’re being detained.’

According to prosecutors, the 54-year-old put his hand over his right pants pocket, making it seem as if he had a gun, and ordered the boy to put his hands up. 

Toward the end of the 30-second recording, the boy is heard telling Santos, ‘Sorry.’  

Minutes later, Santos dials 911, falsely telling the dispatcher that he is an off-duty cop calling to report a crime.

‘Good morning, I have somebody breaking into cars,’ he tells the operator. ‘Um, we, we got it on video. And I got it right here in front of me.’

After asking for the address, the dispatcher inquires about the race of the suspect.

‘He’s a black guy,’ Santos replies.

The teen says something inaudible in the background, prompting Santos to tell him: ‘You stay right where you at, I’m telling you this… cause you can’t be breaking into people’s place. We got you on video so relax.’

Santos then accuses the teen of stealing the bicycle he was riding.

‘I got him with his hands up,’ he tells the 911 dispatcher, before adding, ‘I’m an off-duty officer.’

When the first deputy arrived on the scene eight minutes after the call, he found the teen to be in possession of no stolen property, and determined that the boy had not committed any crimes.

All the 18-year-old had on him was his backpack containing a basketball, a jump rope and a pair of gym shoes.  

According to a statement from the state attorney’s office, the victim was visibly shaking and hyperventilating, and still had his hands in the air.

‘He reasonably believed his life may be in jeopardy if he tried to leave or even move,’ stated the prosecuting agency. ‘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.’ 

In order to put the boy at ease and make sure he was not late for practice, one of the responding deputies hooked his bike to his patrol car and gave him a ride to the gym.   

The incident took place in Seffner, Florida, in the early hours of June 9

The incident took place in Seffner, Florida, in the early hours of June 9 

‘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,’ State Attorney Andrew Warren said.

Warren pointed to similar confrontations between vigilantes and African-Americans trying to go about their day across the US that have ended tragically, sparking widespread protests.

The incident in Seffner calls to mind the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black boy who was shot dead by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman from Sanford, Florida, who later successfully claimed self-defense.  

‘The fact that this didn’t end with a loss of life doesn’t make it any less of a crime. What Mr. Santos did is unacceptable and illegal—now he’ll face consequences for his actions,’ Warren added.

According to prosecutors, Santos admitted to deputies that he had not seen the teenager commit any crimes, and a search of the sheriff’s office’s records found no car break-ins anywhere in Seffner since the beginning of the year. 

Santos previously worked as a security officer at a theme park but had quit the job more than six months earlier. His arrest record indicates that he currently works as a sales assistant at a custom truck shop. 

After reviewing the case, the State Attorney’s Office interviewed the victim and brought the false imprisonment charge against Santos on July 21.

He was booked into the county jail on July 25 and was released just hours later after posting $2,500 bond. 

If convicted as charged, Santos could face up to five years in prison.    

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