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Prosecutors say Florida man acted as 'vigilante' in detaining Black 18-year-old

Prosecutors are alleging a Florida man acted as a “vigilante” when detaining a Black 18-year-old while the teenager was on his way to basketball practice, officials said Thursday.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren charged Luis Santos, 54, with false imprisonment after video and 911 calls showed he stopped a Black student and accused him of committing crimes in an apparent “case of racial profiling.” Prosecutors said there was no evidence to show the teenager had committed crimes. 

The alleged detainment occurred at 5:34 a.m. on June 9 when Santos stopped the teenager in Seffner, Fla., and “held him there against his will.” Prosecutors said Santos made misleading statements and acted as if he had legal authority over the student before deputies arrived.

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“What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community,” Warren said in a statement. “We have skilled police officers—we don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street."

“There have been recent examples of confrontations like this across the country that have ended tragically. The fact that this didn’t end with a loss of life doesn’t make it any less of a crime," he added. "What Mr. Santos did is unacceptable and illegal—now he’ll face consequences for his actions."

Video of the incident shows Santos telling the student, “You’re not going anywhere. You're being detained.” He told the teenager to put his hands up and held his own hands near his pocket, “leading the victim to believe Santos had a gun,” according to the release. 

Santos told the teenager and the 911 dispatcher that he was an “off-duty officer.” He had previously worked as a security officer at a theme park before quitting six months prior. 

“The victim was visibly shaken and hyperventilating when deputies arrived, with his hands still over his head,” the release said. “He reasonably believed his life may be in jeopardy if he tried to leave or even move.” 

Santos had informed the 911 dispatcher that he witnessed the student committing crimes but later said he didn’t see him participate in crime. Police also determined there had been no similar crimes reported in the area throughout all of 2020.

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The state attorney’s office on July 21 officially charged Santos with false imprisonment. He was not charged with false impersonation of an officer because his security officer certifications were still in effect, but officials maintained he had “no legal authority” to detain the student. 

“I want to commend the sheriff’s deputies who responded to the scene,” Warren said. “They calmed the situation down and comforted the victim. Then they took this vigilante to task for what he’d done and referred the case to our office for potential charges.”

Santos, who identified himself as a white Hispanic in jail documents, was released on $2,000 bond on July 25. His lawyer Michelle Borton declined to comment.

The case is similar to one that resulted in the death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin when a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, shot him during an altercation. He was acquitted, with a jury deciding he acted in self-defense.