South Whitehall officer’s case will go to court
Magisterial District Judge Daniel Trexler, at a preliminary hearing on Thursday, sent, or “bound over” former South Whitehall Township police officer Jonathan Robert Roselle’s case to court. Roselle is charged with the voluntary manslaughter of Joseph Santos, reportedly from New Jersey.
A spokeswoman for the Lehigh District Attorney’s office said no trial date has been set at this time.
The hearing Sept. 20 was attended by the defendant, family members, reporters, legal staff, security staff and others.
Judge Trexler listened to the Leigh County District Attorney’s office layout the “prima facie case” against Roselle who is accused of shooting Joseph Santos, 44, to death on July 28, 2018, on Hamilton Boulevard between the Comfort Suites hotel and Dorney Park.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeffry S. Dimmig presented the state’s evidence in the form of video and audio captured by dash cameras and the body camera worn by former officer Roselle showing the moments leading to and the several minutes after the shooting.
On the videos, a woman was telling Roselle that a man had confronted her while she was in her car and had broken a window. Roselle’s defense attorney, Gavin Holihan, later described the woman as being “hysterical.”
Video, which was projected onto a large screen, shows Roselle turning his car around on Hamilton Boulevard and driving to an area between the Comfort Suites sign and Dorney Park where he encounters Santos. Santos approaches Roselle’s marked patrol car and touches an area near the front driver’s door. Roselle, while still in the car, shouts for Santos to, “Get away from the vehicle right now!”
Santos gestures toward Roselle with his hand and fingers. He points to his own eyes with two fingers, then points his index finger toward Roselle who is still seated in the patrol car.
Defense attorney Holihan later characterized the gesture as “threatening.”
At one point defense attorney Holihan asked Pa. State Police Trooper Thomas Rummersfield, who said he was the investigator at the scene, if he thought defendant Roselli could interpret Santo’s finger pointing to be threatening.
This prompted prosecuting attorney Dimmig to challenge Holihan saying that such opinions were “not relevant” and “not proper.” He objected to Holihan “commenting on” Rummersfield’s beliefs or opinions.
“That’s not correct,” Holihan shot back. “There is nothing inappropriate,” referring to his questioning of Trooper Rummersfield.
This exchange prompted Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin, who was sitting at the prosecution’s table, to stand up and address the court.
Holihan objected to what he called a “tag team” on the prosecution’s side.
“I’m the District Attorney of Lehigh County,” Martin responded.
On the video Santos then walks toward the passenger right side quarter panel of the patrol car and looks in at Roselle. Santo’s expression seems blank; his mouth open. Roselle continues to shout commands to “get away” from the vehicle. Roselle’s pistol is in his hand and generally pointed at Santos.
It is not clear if Santos, who was described in court as Hispanic, could speak English.
An attorney representing Santo’s family declined to provide or confirm any information about Santos.
On the video, Santos then climbs onto the hood of Roselle’s patrol car and looks into the car with his face close to the windshield. He hits the windshield a sharp blow that seems to crack the glass. Roselle orders Santos to “Get off right now!” several times His pistol still in his hand.
Roselle gets out of the car to confront Santos, but Santos walks away several paces and is several yards behind the patrol car. He starts walking toward the police officer. His empty hands clearly visible in the sun-lite street; it was about 5:40 p.m.
Roselle, as recorded by his body camera, orders Santos to, “Get on the ground!”
Santos is wearing a black or dark blue T-shirt with a white logo. He has on jeans and a dark colored belt with a buckle. He is wearing white socks, but no shoes. The fly to his trousers is unzipped. He keeps walking toward Roselle.
Roselle, with pistol in hand, again orders Santos to “Get on the ground!”
Just as Santos nears the patrol car’s left rear quarter panel a burst of gunshots can be heard; Santos pitches forward hitting the asphalt face first. He doesn’t move. Blood begings flowing in rivulets and pooling on the pavement.
Santos family members in the courtroom began crying softly as they watched. The sobbing woman held her head in her hands as another comforted her.
Detective James Bruchak testified that the autopsy performed by Forensic Pathology Associates showed that Santos had been shot twice in the head and three times in the torso. He said various drugs including methadone, codeine, and morphine were in Santo’s blood or other body fluids.
The body-cam video shows another officer arriving on the scene and starts giving CPR and, with help from Roselle, other aid to Santos.
Detective Bruchak said the autopsy report placed Joseph Santo’s time of death at 18:08 hours or 6:08 p.m.
Defense attorney Holihan summarized the mitigating circumstances that established the “reasonableness” of Roselle’s action. In his opinion, Santos was attempting to commit a felony; Roselle knew that he had attacked another car; Santos had made a “threatening gesture.” Roselle had no back-up present; Roselle was alone; Santos was advancing toward Roselle offering a “real threat” to the officer and other citizens.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey S. Dimmig told the judge that the state had the three elements of a “prima facie” case of voluntary manslaughter: Santos was dead; Roselle killed him; Roselle had intent to kill Santos.
“This case will be bound over for trial,” Judge Trexler announced.