Destroy Evidence, Fabricate Facts, But It’s Just A “Human Mistake”?
July 26, 2016 (Fault Lines) — In Reading, Pennsylvania this last April 5th, Marcelina Cintron-Garcia and Joel Rodriguez were pulled over for not using their turn signal. Cintron tried to interfere with Officer Jesus Santiago-DeJesus by filming him with her cellphone, and then, when that didn’t accomplish the disruption she desired, she violently assaulted him. Rodriguez was disorderly and resisted arrest, but somehow Santiago was able to subdue them, take them into custody, and book them for their crimes. He also prepared a thorough report, so that the District Attorney could hold them accountable for their criminal activities.
The only problem was that Santiago’s report had about as much to do with reality as the unicorn I keep in my closet.
The Berks County District Attorney, John T. Adams, dropped all charges against Cintron and Rodriguez. Nearby surveillance cameras showed that Cintron used her turn signal. It showed Cintron sitting calmly and Santiago grabbing her cellphone and throwing it violently onto the sidewalk, smashing it. It showed her sitting there, using no force against the officer and Santiago striking her violently with a closed fist, causing her to have to be taken to a hospital and to be treated for her injuries.
Santiago was charged by Adams with official oppression, criminal attempt to tamper or fabricate physical evidence and criminal mischief. That means that Santiago was a thug who was wearing a badge and a gun. It means he made up the traffic violation. It means he tried to destroy evidence that was on the cellphone. It means that he lied on the report about the assault and the resisting.
But prosecutors said the officer, Santiago-DeJesus, needlessly escalated the incident, which normally would be handled with summary citations, because he didn’t want to be recorded on video. Citizens have a right to record police in public.
So the system was working the way it was supposed to work—or was it? You see, state District Judge Thomas H. Xavios held a three-hour hearing on the matter, viewed the video, and dismissed all charges without prejudice. The judge just could not see where Santiago had intentionally lied. The local paper questioned if the officer had just made a “human mistake.”
Did Officer Jesus Santiago-DeJesus violate the rights of two citizens by demanding their cellphones, or was he doing it out of concern for the safety of himself and others, as officers are expected to do?
Santiago’s attorney, Allan Sodomsky, said if the two victims had just complied with the officer, there would be no problem.
“It’s a great day for justice. Justice was served.”
Uh, no, it’s pretty clear that Santiago lied. Plus this wasn’t his first questionable use of force. Earlier in the year, he put nine rounds from his pistol through the back window of a car containing two teenagers, with at least one of the teenagers suing for excessive force. The shooting was ruled to be justified, because the officer feared death or injury.
Yeah, right. The current incident isn’t going to help him much with the lawsuit, at least not on the credibility scale. It’s not entirely clear that justice was served at all with the dismissal.
First Assistant District Attorney Dennis Skayhan, who prosecuted the case, later determined District Judge Thomas H. Xavios erred in ruling prosecutors had not proved there was enough evidence to send the case to county court.
District Attorney John T. Adams directed detectives to refile the charges at Xavios’ office.
Adams is correct. The standard is probable cause, and you judge police officers by the same standard as you judge everyone else. You don’t give the officer the benefit of the doubt in a hearing, anymore than you would give it to a regular citizen.
You take this case to court and let a jury decide.
 Without prejudice means that the DA can re-file the charges.