A Florida man accused of racial profiling after he detained a Black teenager on suspicion of theft was encouraged by a judge to watch Ava DuVernay’s 13th documentary during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Circuit Judge Lyann Goudie sentenced 56-year-old Luis Orlando Santos Santiago to one-year probation and 25 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty to one charge of assault with prejudice. The accused man can complete some of the ordered community service hours by watching the Netflix documentary.
The incident in question happened in June last year after Santiago confronted an 18-year-old Black boy who was headed to basketball practice on his bike. During the tense encounter, Santiago also claimed he was an off-duty officer, which was false.
Besides probation and community service, Santiago, who is a military veteran, also agreed to attend and complete anger management and implicit bias classes. He is also required to write an apology letter to the teenager.
During his sentencing hearing, Judge Lyann Goudie made reference to Santiago’s military background and how he ought to have known about the importance of treating people equally irrespective of race. She also said she could not imagine what it feels like to be profiled because of the color of your skin.
“Unfortunately for Black people, this is a common occurrence,” Goudie said. “Which is why everyone is protesting. Rightfully so.”
Goudie then went ahead to suggest Santiago watch Ava DuVernay’s Emmy award-winning documentary. Named after the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the documentary analyzes the “criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom” post-Civil war era to present times.
“It is a very enlightening view of the Black experience in the United States of America,” the judge said.
Despite the circumstances surrounding last year’s incident, Santiago’s attorney, Michelle Borton, said the 56-year-old “feels” the confrontation “was not related to racial profiling.” “We don’t want to argue that right now. He just wants to continue with his life and pay for what he did.”
In a statement that was read in court, the victim’s mother said the incident left her son emotionally shaken. The victim was 18 years old at the time of the confrontation.
“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 victim’s mother said, per the Tampa Bay Times.
“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 added. “But also please mind your business when things don’t concern you or your property.”
In the early hours of June 9, 2020, the Black teenager was riding his bike to basketball practice when Santiago stopped him and began questioning him. The confrontation happened in a Seffner neighborhood.
And in a cell phone video recorded by Santiago, the suspect can be seen catching up with the teenager and asking if he works or lives in the neighborhood. The teen tells him where he lives and provides his address upon request, but Santiago goes ahead to detain the teen, telling him: “You’re not going anywhere.”
“You’re being detained,” Santiago says in the video, to which the teen replies and says, “I’m sorry.”
Santiago subsequently called 911 and told the operator, “I have somebody breaking into cars. We have it on video.” The suspect also told the operator the teen is a “Black guy” when he was asked about his race, WFLA reported. According to the state attorney, the teen wasn’t accused of being behind those crimes.
Santiago, who also told the 911 operator he was an off-duty officer, yelled at the teen while on the call, telling him, “You stay right where you at!” and also told the operator, “I think he stole one of the bikes.”
“The evidence shows the victim had not committed any crime and Santos made misleading statements to law enforcement about what he had witnessed,” a statement from the state attorney’s office said at the time. “The young man felt threatened and was not free to leave, while Santos acted as though he had the legal authority of a law enforcement officer, including compelling the victim to put his hands in the air until sheriff’s deputies arrived.”
In a statement to WFLA, state attorney Andrew Warren said: “What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community. We have skilled police officers. We don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street.”
During the encounter, prosecutors allege Santiago forced the teen to put his hands up while he (Santiago) had his hand near his pocket, trying to suggest he was armed. When officers arrived at the scene, they concluded the teen, who was visibly shaken, did nothing wrong. Officers only found a basketball, a jump rope and gym shoes when they searched his backpack, WFTS reported.
To help calm the distraught teen, officers hooked his bike to the patrol car and gave him a ride to his basketball practice. Santiago was later arrested and initially charged with false imprisonment.