A Prince George’s police officer has been indicted by a grand jury after a video showed him holding a gun to the head of a man who was outside his home in Bowie.
Jenchesky Santiago was indicted on several counts, including first- and second-degree assault and misconduct in office, according to prosecutors in Prince George’s.
On May 10, Santiago, who was on duty, pulled up to a car that was stopped in front of a home in Bowie. According to prosecutors, he questioned the driver and a passenger about what they were doing there and told them that they were parked illegally, although they weren’t.
The driver explained that he was dropping off the passenger, who was his cousin and lived at the house. The passenger, William Cunningham, got out of the car and tried to go inside his home, but Santiago ordered him to return to the vehicle.
When Cunningham didn’t go back to the car, Santiago blocked him and pulled out his service weapon, prosecutors said, adding that he put the gun against Cunningham’s head and pushed him back toward the car. At one point, they said, Santiago pointed the gun at Cunningham’s mouth.
Santiago ordered the driver out of the car and searched the men, authorities said.
When Cunningham’s wife came out of the house to ask what was going on and tell the officer that her husband lived there, Santiago told her to get back so she didn’t get arrested, according to John Erzen II, a spokesman at the county’s Office of the State’s Attorney.
The incident, prosecutors said, was recorded by the car’s driver on a cellphone.
“If you were to even see this video, you’d understand it’s like a bad gangster video. Mr. Santiago acted like a gangster,” said Gabriel Christian, an attorney for Cunningham. “I saw someone who was totally out of control. Someone almost lost their life.”
Christian said Cunningham is 36 and works as a heating and air conditioning technician. He was “scared within an inch of his life” by the encounter, as were his wife, an administrative assistant at the Justice Department, and his cousin, who teaches math at an elementary school, Christian said.
Other police officers eventually came to the scene and calmed Santiago down, Christian added.
“This is a sad day, I think, for all of us, because we take no pleasure in a law enforcement officer being called before the courts,” Christian said. But he also said he thought it was important that Santiago be charged. “If we allow this kind of misconduct to continue, it’s turning the police forces into the enemy of the citizen.”
Santiago, who has been employed with the department for three years, was also charged with using a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence or felony. His attorney did not return calls for comment.
In a news release, Prince George’s police said the department’s internal-affairs division launched an investigation after it learned of the incident. Santiago’s police powers were suspended June 3, according to police officials. He is now suspended without pay after the grand jury indictment.
“These actions are not indicative of the high standards we expect of our officers,” Police Chief Mark Magaw said in the statement. “Our department remains, as always, committed to constitutional, ethical and professional policing.”
The incident was first reported by WJLA (Channel 7).
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.