The man phoned 911 and told a dispatcher he was an “off-duty officer” and had detained the boy after catching him stealing on video. He claimed he had seen the boy breaking into cars. Then, he alleged the boy had stolen the bike he was riding, and refused to let the teenager leave.
None of the allegations were true, police said. The boy had not committed any crimes. The man wasn’t an officer, and he had no videos to back up his allegations. In fact, the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office said there hadn’t been a single crime reported this year in the Lakeshore Ranch neighborhood, which describes itself as a “charming and quiet community” of 264 single-family homes with access to a lakefront, a boardwalk and several local parks.
Video of the confrontation and audio from the 911 call were released by the state attorney and reported by WFLA.
After investigating the incident, deputies returned to arrest Santos on Saturday. The state attorney charged him with false imprisonment for illegally detaining the teenager.
The episode echoed many frightening, and sometimes violent, confrontations between Black children and adults who view them as suspicious or dangerous.
The scene in Seffner mirrored many of the circumstances that led to the fatal 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, also a Black teenager in Florida, who was shot and killed after George Zimmerman called 911 to report him as suspicious and then followed and confronted Martin. In February, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed in Georgia by a White father and son who believed he looked like a suspect from recent break-ins and stopped him while the young Black man was jogging in his own neighborhood.
Black teenagers have also been stopped by people for walking through gated communities where they live, spat on for participating in Black Lives Matter protests, and smacked in the face with a bike lock for playing loud music.
When sheriff’s deputies responded to Santos’s 911 call, the boy he stopped had his hands above his head and was hyperventilating, according to a statement shared with WFLA by Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. The teenager feared Santos had a gun, Warren said, because the man kept reaching for his pockets.
“What happened should upset everyone in our community,” Warren said on Twitter Wednesday. “We have trained officers; we don’t need vigilantes accosting innocent people on the street. And we have zero tolerance for racial profiling and harassment that can lead to deadly confrontations.”
Although Santos identified himself to the 911 dispatcher as an “off-duty officer,” Warren’s office said he was actually a former security guard. State records show a security guard certification and a statewide firearms license for a Luis O. Santos, but that license expired a week after his encounter with the teenager, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Deputies quickly determined the teenager had done nothing wrong when they arrived at the scene and drove the boy to his basketball practice. More than a month later, on July 20, prosecutors interviewed the teenager and Warren approved charges against Santos the next day.
Officials did not identify the teenager, citing privacy concerns and Marsy’s Law, which restricts public access to information about crime victims. But professional wrestler Titus O’Neil, who says he is a “a friend and supporter” of the boy and a spokesman for the family, told WFLA the family hopes “justice [will] be served by holding the perpetrator accountable.”
“It is our sincere hope and desire that the outcome from this situation will show that there is zero tolerance for racial profiling and harassment in Hillsborough County, and that zero tolerance will extend throughout our state and our country,” O’Neil told the TV station.