New Jersey

Officer Faces Voluntary Manslaughter Charge in Shooting Death of Unarmed Man Near Dorney Park

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

  • South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Joseph Santos.
  • Santos was reportedly interfering with traffic along Route 222 near Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom on July 28 when Roselle approached.
  • Roselle was held without bail after surrendering Tuesday to face the charge.

A rookie police officer from the Lehigh Valley faces a manslaughter charge in the shooting death of an unarmed man near Dorney Park last month.

South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle was charged Tuesday with one count of voluntary manslaughter, unreasonable belief, in the shooting death of Joseph Santos on July 28, said Jim Martin, district attorney for the central Pennsylvania county.

That evening, Santos was reportedly interfering with traffic along Route 222 near Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom. Witnesses said the man damaged cars and, at one point, ripped the window out of a vehicle.

Roselle responded to the scene and confronted Santos. Authorities said the officer told Santos several times to stand down before he opened fire.

Santos, 44, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, was struck at least once. He was taken to Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest Hospital where he died from his injuries.

Sheli Muniz
Joseph Santos

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.

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.

Defense attorneys said in a statement that Roselle, who is on paid leave, believes his actions were justified and appropriate given the circumstances.

Several Facebook users posted a witness' video of the police-involved shooting. The video showed Santos walking toward a police vehicle and an officer is heard repeatedly telling him to get on the ground.

Santos continued walking toward the vehicle as the sound of gunfire erupted. The man then fell to the ground.

An investigation found that Santos was walking toward and not rushing toward the officer, 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, Martin said.

South Whitehall Police Officer Jonathan Roselle

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

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Later, a second 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.

In a Facebook post alongside those videos, 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."

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

Roselle surrendered and was arraigned Tuesday. He is being held without bail. It’s unclear if he has an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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