HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A Florida man was charged with false imprisonment after illegally detaining a Black teen who was on his way to an early morning basketball practice in what prosecutors called a case of racial profiling.
Luis Santos, 54, stopped an 18-year-old Black student who was biking to basketball practice at 5:34 a.m. June 9, the Hillsborough County State Attorney Office said. Santos accused the teen of breaking into cars and committing other crimes.
Santos called 911. Santos ordered the victim to raise his hands in the air. Santos kept his hand near a pocket, intimating that he had a gun.
"You're not going anywhere," Santos told the victim. "You're being detained."
Santos, who had quit his theme park security guard job six months ago, added: “I’m an off-duty officer.”
Santos told 911 that he witnessed the teen committing crimes. He also misleadingly told them he was an off-duty officer.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies arrived and found the victim hyperventilating, his hands still raised over his head. They found no evidence any crime was committed. They also determined that no similar crimes had been committed in the subdivision all year.
“What happened that morning should upset everyone in our community,” State Attorney Andrew Warren said. “We have skilled police officers. We don’t need vigilantes confronting people on the street.”
The victim, who has not been identified, was carrying a backpack which contained a jump rope, a basketball and gym shoes. A deputy loaded up the teen's bicycle and took him to practice.
“There have been recent examples of confrontations like this across the country that have ended tragically,” Warren said. “The fact that this didn’t end with a loss of life doesn’t make it any less of a crime. What Mr. Santos did is unacceptable and illegal — now he’ll face consequences for his actions.”
Santos was arrested and charged Saturday with false imprisonment, a third-degree felony. He could face up to five years in prison if convicted. Because his state security guard certification was still valid, he is not being charged with impersonation of an officer. He was released on $2,000 bond, according to jail records.
“We don’t want people taking the law into their own hands,” Warren said. “We charged the case here because there is evidence he committed a crime and because it serves the purpose of showing that we’re not going to tolerate vigilantes, who are accosting people, especially when they’re doing it just based on how that person looks.”
The teen's family has asked for privacy and have retained an attorney.
Former professional wrestler Titus O'Neil, who has promoted social justice issues in the past, is a spokesman for the family, WFLA reported.
O'Neil said the teen is a student-athlete preparing to attend college in the fall.
“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. As a father of two sons, please join me in working to end this and all other forms of discrimination. The racial profiling of innocent African American children must be stopped. This must never happen again to anyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”