Anyone who finds themself in legal trouble might be worried about fines, probation, or jail time. They probably wouldn’t expect a judge to sentence them to watching a television show. But, that’s what happened in one Florida case… kind of.
The Inciting Incident
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Luis Orlando Santos Santiago, 56, was leaving his home in Seffner, Florida, when he saw a Black teenager on a bicycle with a backpack.
Santiago pulled up to the teenager and began questioning him about what he was doing in the neighborhood. The man asked the teen to give him his exact address, which he did, but it wasn’t enough for Santiago.
Santiago started filming the teen, stepped out of the car, and called 911 to report that he had caught someone breaking into cars.
The video and the recording of the call both show that Santiago was convinced the teen was committing a crime, while having no proof. As reported by Tampa Bay Time, Santiago is heard saying, “I got it on video.” After the teen says something in the background, Santiago says to him, “Because you can’t be breaking into people’s places. We got you on video. So relax. Relax.”
The teen was neither relaxed nor committing a crime.
False Accusations Lead to False Imprisonment
The teen, who hasn’t been identified by name, was on his way to athletic practice. His backpack held a basketball, gym shoes, and jump rope.
There was no evidence that he had been breaking into cars. The neighborhood had no reports of crimes that day. In fact, there had been no reports of crime in that neighborhood in the first half of 2020.
Knowing that he was innocent wasn’t enough to make the teen feel safe. Police said the teen had his hands raised and was hyperventilating when they arrived. The teen told officers he thought Santiago had a gun because the man kept putting his hand near his pocket.
In a statement later released by the teen’s mother, she explains how stressful the situation was for her son.
“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.
The Consequences of False Imprisonment Charges
Santiago thought he was going to get the teen in legal trouble, and instead, found himself with a charge of his own.
Santiago was arrested and charged with false imprisonment.
In Florida, “false imprisonment” is defined by Florida Statute 787.02 as “forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against her or his will.”
It carries a possible penalty of up to five years in prison, five years probation, and $5,000 in fines.
The Details of Santiago’s Plea Deal
In the end, Santiago made a plea deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of assault with prejudice, a lesser charge than false imprisonment.
As part of the plea deal, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Santiago:
- Must complete an anger management and implicit bias course
- Write an apology letter to the teen
- Complete 25 hours of community service — which can include watching the Netflix documentary, 13th.
Hillsborough Circuit, Judge Lyann Goudie, saw this incident as a case of racial profiling, which is why she encouraged Santiago to use some of his community service time watching the Netflix documentary, 13th.
Watching a Movie as Part of Sentencing?
13th is a 2016 documentary that explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States. Goudie thinks Santiago has something to learn from the movie.
“It is a very enlightening view of the Black experience in the United States of America,” Goudie said. “Unfortunately for Black people, this is a common occurrence. Which is why everyone is protesting. Rightfully so.”
While Goudie urged Santiago to watch the documentary, she didn’t sentence him to watching it.
He can choose to watch it to earn community service hours or choose to do a different activity.
It’s not clear whether or not Santiago will watch the documentary as his attorney insists that the incident wasn’t a case of racial profiling.
The teen mother sees it differently. In her statement, she says, “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.”
Understanding the Potential Legal Consequences of a Criminal Case
If you have questions about possible sentencing in a criminal case, talk to an attorney right away. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand what potential consequences you face and work with you to ensure that there is a fair and just outcome.
Get legal advice for your case today. Talk to TJ Grimaldi. Schedule or call 813-226-1023 today.