A Florida judge has deemed watching Ava DuVernay’s Emmy award-winning documentary “13th” an acceptable way for a local man to complete some of his community service hours following a racially charged incident.
Luis Orlando Santos Santiago, 56, accosted a then-18-year-old Black teen on June 9, 2020, as he rode his bicycle to school for early morning athletic practice around 5:30 am. Santiago accused the teenager, whose name has been redacted from court records, of breaking into cars in the neighborhood of the Tampa suburb of Seffner, Florida, where they both lived and recorded a video of himself accosting the young man.
In the video, Santos asks the teen if he lives in the neighborhood, to which he replies he does before Santos informs him “You’re not going anywhere. You’re being detained.”
The offender then called the police reporting that he’d caught a suspect in the act of breaking into cars, and told the young man that he was an “off-duty officer” when in fact he’d previously worked as a security officer at a theme park. When police arrived, the teen was hyperventilating and thought Santos had a gun because he kept his hand near his pocket.
Police found that the teen committed no crime and that no crimes had been reported in the neighborhood in 2020. Santos was arrested some six weeks later on July 25 and charged with false imprisonment.
“What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren previously said in a statement. “We have skilled police officers — we don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street.”
Santos pleaded guilty to a charge of assault with prejudice after originally facing a false imprisonment charge.
He was sentenced to a year of probation and 25 hours of community service, and ordered to complete anger management and implicit bias classes.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lyann Goudie encouraged Santiago to watch DuVernay’s documentary, which explores the American prison system as a new form of slavery, as part of his community service, and calling it “a very enlightening view of the Black experience in the United States of America.”
The victim’s mother opened up about the effect the incident has had on her son in an emotional statement that was read in court.
“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 statement read. “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,” she continued. “Please use this situation as a learning tool to not judge people by their appearance, but also please mind your business when things don’t concern you or your property.”
Santos’ lawyer, Michelle Borton, says that her client still insists that the incident was not racially motivated. “He feels it was not related to racial profiling,” she said. “We don’t want to argue that right now. He just wants to continue with his life and pay for what he did.”