Allentown, PA – The Allentown Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a travel advisory on Wednesday that warned “minorities and persons of color” to avoid the South Whitehall Township area.
“The NAACP Allentown Branch therefore advises minorities who have business in South Whitehall Township or who are planning to attend Dorsey Park, located within the Township, to exercise heightened caution while within the jurisdiction of the South Whitehall Township Police Department and to take all measures to avoid any confrontations or interactions with this police force,” the organization wrote in a press release dated Aug. 29.
South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Aug. 7 in the on-duty shooting death of 44-year-old Joseph Santos.
A woman who filmed the shooting posted on social media in defense of the officer.
“Everyone is making it seem like this Joseph Santos man is an innocent man at the hands of a killer cop," Nadia Elizabeth posted to her Facebook page.
“Nooooo ladies and gentleman that is not the case," she wrote. "Joseph Santos is a man that jumped the Dorney park Fence onto the street (Hamilton Blvd) and assaulted 3 different cars. He didn’t exit the park like a rational member of society but more of that of a criminal that was up to no good.”
But the NAACP press release had an entirely different take on the incident from the witnesses’ accounts.
“The NAACP branch notes that there have been incidents of great concern and danger this summer, including the police shooting death of Joseph Santos by a white South Whitehall Township police officer and the racial profiling claims of Benjamin Slater, an African American customer of Dorney Park who claims to have been wrongfully detained, removed from the park, and cited by a white South Whitehall Township Police Officer,” the organization wrote in the press release.
Dorney Park is an amusement park complex located in South Whitehall Township.
The press release also said there had been complaints of white police officers following and harassing “citizens of color including African Americans.”
“The NAACP Branch notes that the South Whitehall Township police department employs not a single African American police officer and, to the NAACP’s knowledge, has taken insufficient steps to integrate the police department on racial lines,” the release said.
The incident that led to the fatal 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.
In the video, 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.
Under pressure from advocacy groups, the district attorney was quick to charge Officer Roselle after the shooting before the investigation had been completed.
However, the district attorney said at the press conference announcing the charges that he had found no evidence to support accusations of racism or police brutality.
The officer, who had graduated from the police academy only 9 months before the shooting occurred, is a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan, and is a major in the National Guard.
More than 100 community members rallied in support of Office Roselle on Aug. 12 said they felt the officer had been wrongly charged.
Several said they felt Santos was partially responsible for his own death because he had failed to heed the officer’s commands.