Not long after fatally shooting an unarmed man, a Pennsylvania police officer reportedly admitted to a fellow cop at the scene that he “fucked up.”
South Whitehall Township Police Officer Jonathan Roselle was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday, less than two weeks after the July 28 shooting. The 33-year-old U.S. Army veteran had only been a cop for about six months when the shooting occurred.
Prior to the shooting, Roselle was monitoring traffic when a “hysterical and frantic” woman pulled up alongside his police car, according to Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin. The woman told Roselle that a man had attempted to break into her car. ABC News recounts what happened next:
Roselle then encountered a bleeding man walking on the street, and the man banged on his car and jumped on the hood, Martin said. After that, Roselle reported the incident over radio—saying that the man may have mental issues—and issued several commands for the man to get off the vehicle and step away.
Martin says the man—44-year-old Joseph Santos—started walking away but then turned around, refusing Roselle’s orders to get on the ground. According to Martin, Santos said, “Don’t do it,” before Roselle shot at him five times.
Santos was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Roselle, meanwhile, told at least one fellow officer at the scene that he “fucked up” and “didn’t know what to do,” Martin says.
According to the district attorney, there’s no reason to believe race played a factor. But he believes the shooting was still unjustified. “This was the act of a relatively inexperienced officer, who held a subjective fear for his own safety, but made a decision which objectively was unreasonable in light of the facts as they existed and appeared at the time he discharged his weapon and killed Mr. Santos,” Martin says.
“[Santos] was not running or rushing,” Martin adds in a statement. “He did not have anything visible in his hands; he was not clenching his fists; he did not present a threatening posture.”
Roselle’s attorney, on the other hand, says the “deadly force” his client used was “justified and appropriate.”
Roselle was released on bail and has been placed on paid leave by the South Whitehall Township Police Department. As I noted yesterday, that’s not a particularly surprising short-term fate, given that getting paid not to work is a pretty common “consequence” for officers involved in controversial shootings.
What is surprising is that Roselle was charged so quickly. In fact, just 90 police officers involved in fatal shootings have faced criminal charges since 2005, according to Bowling Green State University professor Phil Stinson (there have been 613 officer-involved fatal shootings so far in 2018 alone). Of those 90, just 32 have actually been convicted. Roughly half of those convictions resulted from guilty pleas.