TAMPA — A judge on Tuesday sentenced a man who accosted a Black teenager last summer in a Seffner neighborhood to a year of probation and 25 hours of community service, some of which he can complete by watching the Netflix documentary 13th.
As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Luis Orlando Santos Santiago, 56, was also ordered to complete anger management and implicit bias classes. He pleaded guilty last month to a single charge of assault with prejudice, a lesser offense than the false imprisonment accusation he originally faced.
Noting Santos is a military veteran, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lyann Goudie said it was remarkable to her that someone who had served the country would not understand the importance of protecting and respecting all U.S. citizens, regardless of race or other differences. She said she couldn’t imagine what it’s like to be a victim of racial profiling.
“Unfortunately for Black people, this is a common occurrence,” Goudie said. “Which is why everyone is protesting. Rightfully so.”
She urged Santos to watch the popular documentary, whose titled references the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment and which explores the history of race and injustice spanning from the end of the American Civil War through the modern era.
“It is a very enlightening view of the Black experience in the United States of America,” Goudie said.
The judge alluded to voting laws that have passed in some states in recent months, which some say would make it harder for minorities to vote.
“It’s pretty frightening what’s going on in our country right now,” she said.
Santos’ attorney, Michelle Borton, told the judge he is working on an apology letter to the victim, another condition of his sentence.
“He feels it was not related to racial profiling,” Borton said. “We don’t want to argue that right now. He just wants to continue with his life and pay for what he did.”
Before handing down the sentence, the judge questioned Santos about his actions the morning of June 9, 2020.
He was leaving his home about 5:30 a.m. that day in the Lake Shore Ranch subdivision in Seffner, heading to his job at a trucking company. It was still dark and he could see lights emerging from the side of a house.
He saw the teen riding a bicycle along a sidewalk.
The teen carried a backpack that held a basketball, gym shoes and a jump rope as he headed to an early-morning athletic practice, prosecutors said.
Near the entrance to the subdivision, Santos pulled alongside him in a car. He recorded a video of their interaction, which the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office later released.
In the video, he asked if the teen lived in the neighborhood. The teen pointed in the direction of his home. Santos demanded to know his exact address. The teen recited it.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Santos told him, stepping out of the car. “You’re being detained.”
Santos then called 911. He told a call taker he’d caught someone breaking into cars.
“I got it on video,” he said in a recording of the call. “I got it right here in front of me.”
As the victim said something in the background, Santos could be heard telling him to remain where he was. The teen said something else.
“Well, you should be,” Santos says. “Because you can’t be breaking into people’s place. We got you on video. So relax. Relax.”
In the call, Santos said he was an off-duty officer. He had previously worked as a security officer for a theme park. He later told the call taker he thought the teen had stolen a bicycle.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived and found the victim hyperventilating, his hands raised. He believed Santos had a gun.
The teen committed no crime. There were no reports of crimes in that neighborhood in the first half of 2020, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
The victim, who was 18 at the time of the incident, has never been publicly identified. His name was redacted from court records. A note in the court file references Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018, which is meant to protect victim’s rights but deprives the public of information previously available under public records laws.
J. Carter Andersen, an attorney for the victim’s family, said he has known him eight years and called him “one of the finest young men I know.” The attorney read a statement in court from the victim’s mother.
She recalled her son being emotionally distraught after being profiled due to the color of his skin.
“As an African American mother, we have to have difficult conversations with our Black sons, about defusing situations, about keeping your hands up if you are stopped, and complying even if you did nothing wrong,” the statement read. “This is absurd, but unfortunately necessary in our community. I hope people hear this and change the narrative of judging young Black men. My son is an intelligent, well-respected college athlete with a bright future ahead of him. Although this incident has caused him emotional trauma, it did not break him. ...
“Please use this situation as a learning tool to not judge people by their appearance,” the statement read. “But also please mind your business when things don’t concern you or your property.”