New Jersey

Service Held for Man Killed in Lehigh Valley Police-Involved Shooting Near Dorney Park, Rally Held for Officer Charged in His Death

Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin says South Whitehall Police Officer Jonathan Roselle wasn't justified in the deadly shooting of 44-year-old Joseph Santos on July 28

What to Know

  • Separate events were held in the Lehigh Valley Sunday for a man killed in a police-involved shooting and the officer charged in his death.
  • South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Joseph Santos.
  • Santos was allegedly interfering with traffic along Route 222 near Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom on July 28 when Roselle approached.

Separate events were held in the Lehigh Valley Sunday afternoon for a man who was killed in a police-involved shooting and the officer charged in his death.

Supporters of Joseph Santos, 44, gathered at Resurrected Life Community Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for a special service, while supporters of South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle gathered in South Whitehall Township for a "Back the Blue" rally.

"What we're really doing is not just encouraging the family but encouraging you to find your voice," Reverend Dr. Gregory Edwards said during the service for Santos. "To get involved. To never again let this happen in this community."

The rally for Officer Roselle took place along Route 222 near Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. It was the same location where Santos, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, was shot and killed by Officer Roselle more than two weeks ago.

Arlene Figueroa, the mother of Santos' 8-year-old daughter, told NBC10 she still hasn't told their child about what happened.

"I still look at my phone when it rings," she said. "I think it's him calling me to tell me, 'Does the baby want McDonald's? Do you need something from the store?' So it's just still hard."

Sheli Muniz
Joseph Santos

On July 28, Officer Roselle confronted Santos after he allegedly interfered with traffic. Witnesses said Santos damaged cars and, at one point, ripped the window out of a vehicle.

In a Facebook post Nadia Elizabeth said Santos jumped a fence around Dorney Park and interfered with three cars as they rolled down the busy highway.

"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," she wrote. "I witnessed Joseph Santos act like a complete maniac and scare the lives of those behind the wheel."

A set of videos surfaced showing a man later identified by police as Santos, hanging off of moving cars and jumping onto the hood of a police SUV prior to the shooting. Another witness' video showed Santos walking toward a police vehicle. Authorities said Officer Roselle told Santos several times to stand down before he opened fire.

In the video, Santos continued walking toward the vehicle as the sound of gunfire erupted. He then fell to the ground.

Santos was struck at least once. He was taken to Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest Hospital where he died from his injuries.

"I want the world to know that Joey was a beautiful man," Figueroa said. "What you see in that video was not him. That was not his demeanor."

An investigation found that Santos was walking and not rushing toward the officer, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said.

Santos wasn’t complying with the officer’s demands and could be heard saying "don’t do it" before the officer opened fire, according to Martin.

Martin said evidence shows that Santos, who was unarmed, posed no danger to Officer Roselle. The DA also said prosecutors do not believe race was a factor. Santos is Hispanic and of Puerto Rican descent while Roselle is white.

After the shooting, Roselle told other officers who responded to the scene that he "f---ed up" and thought Santos was coming at him, according to Martin.

During Sunday's "Back the Blue" rally, the crowd showed their support for Roselle as well as law enforcement.

"More and more people seem to be going against the police," Ken Pajak of Milford Township said. "They're not even getting a fair shake. Even when they're right everybody's making them out to be wrong."

Ronald Angstadt, who also attended the rally, held up a sign that read, "I back Officer Roselle."

"He was out here doing his job," Angstadt said. "The man was out here blocking traffic. Running around. And did the officer make a bad choice? Yeah. But until you or me are put in that position, none of us know what we're going to do."

Officer Roselle was charged Tuesday with one count of voluntary manslaughter, unreasonable belief, in Santos' death. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

"Officer Roselle will have his day in court and I'm sure he's going to be found not guilty," Lisa Mearkle of Hummelstown said. "Because he was in my mind justified for what he did."

South Whitehall Police Officer Jonathan Roselle

Roselle, a new officer who graduated from the police academy in December 2017, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, Martin said. The 33-year-old officer served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and is a major in the National Guard.

Defense attorneys said in a statement that Roselle, who is being held without bail, believes his actions were justified and appropriate given the circumstances.

Officials continue to investigate the incident and urge witnesses to come forward.

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