Detention of Black teen in Seffner leads to false imprisonment charge

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office says an early-morning stop of a young bicyclist appears to be a case of racial profiling. They've charged a man with false imprisonment.
Luis Santos Santiago, 54, faces a charge of false imprisonment for an incident in which prosecutors say he stopped and detained a Black teenager on a bicycle.
Luis Santos Santiago, 54, faces a charge of false imprisonment for an incident in which prosecutors say he stopped and detained a Black teenager on a bicycle. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]
Published July 29, 2020|Updated July 29, 2020

SEFFNER — It was just after 5:30 a.m. when a car pulled up alongside a teenage boy on a bicycle in a quiet Seffner neighborhood. The teen, who is Black and lives nearby, was toting a backpack that held a basketball, gym shoes and a jump-rope on his way to an early-morning athletic practice.

The driver, who recorded a video of their interaction, demanded to know where he lived. The teen recited his address.

“You’re not going anywhere,” the driver told him, stepping out of the car. “You’re being detained.”

The driver made a 911 call. He claimed he’d caught the kid breaking into cars.

That was not true, authorities say.

The events of that early morning form the basis of a criminal case. Luis Orlando Santos Santiago, 54, was arrested Saturday on a charge of false imprisonment related to the June 9 incident.

Prosecutors say his actions appear to have been a result of racial profiling.

“What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement. “We have skilled police officers — we don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street.”

Warren’s office released a copy of the video Wednesday, which captured the first few seconds of the interaction. They also released an audio recording of the 911 call and a narrative describing what occurred that morning.

It happened near the entrance to the Lake Shore Ranch subdivision in Seffner.

In the 911 recording, Santos tells a call taker that he caught someone breaking into cars.

“I got it on video,” he says. “I got it right here in front of me.”

Later, the teen can be heard saying something in the background.

“You stay right where you’re at,” Santos says. “I’m telling you this.”

The teen says something else, but his words are unclear.

“Well, you should be,” Santos says. “Because you can’t be breaking into people’s place. We got you on video. So relax. Relax.”

He later told the call taker he thought the teen had stolen a bicycle.

At one point in the 911 recording, Santos tells the call-taker that he is an “off-duty officer.” He previously worked as a security officer at a theme park, but had quit the job months earlier, the State Attorney’s Office statement said.

Records with the state Department of Agriculture, which regulates security officers, show a Luis O. Santos had a security officer license that expired on June 16.

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Jail records indicate that Santos works for a company that sells commercial trucks.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived, the teen was hyperventilating, with his hands raised. He believed Santos had a gun because he kept his hand near his pocket, according to the State Attorney’s Office statement.

The teen committed no crime. There also have been no reports of crimes in that neighborhood in the year 2020, the State Attorney’s Office statement said.

Santos told deputies that someone had broken into his car in the past, but he had not reported it to law enforcement, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office said.

Santos was arrested Saturday and released from jail a few hours later after posting a $2,000 bail bond, records show.

Attempts to reach Santos by phone Wednesday were not successful.

His attorney is listed in court records as Michelle Borton of Tampa. Messages left with her law office and a voicemail left on the number listed for her were not returned.

The State Attorney’s Office withheld the teen’s name, citing Marsy’s Law, a Florida constitutional amendment that’s meant to protect crime victims but deprives the public of information previously available under public records laws.

They said the teen wants no attention and that his family has asked for privacy.