100-plus protestors rally in support of officer charged in South Whitehall shooting

More than 100 people waved American flags, carried red, white and blue balloons and carried signs, stating, “Back the Blue,” “Let Police Do Their Job” and “We Can’t Afford Indecisive Cops” in a rally Sunday supporting a South Whitehall Township police officer charged with manslaughter in a fatal shooting last month.

The rally took place at 2 p.m. Sunday near the Comfort Suites Hotel across from Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom on Hamilton Boulevard, where investigators said Officer Jonathan Roselle shot and killed a 44-year-old Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., resident on July 28.

Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin last week charged Roselle, 33, of Parryville, Carbon County, with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Joseph Santos.

Authorities said Santos, who had been seen jumping on moving cars along Hamilton Boulevard, refused to comply with Roselle’s orders to lie down on the ground. The officer fired the fatal shots after Santos continued walking toward him, according to investigators.

In the aftermath of the shooting, authorities said, Roselle told fellow officers he “f—-d up,” and Martin told reporters had determined Roselle’s use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable “in light of the facts as they existed at the time.”

Roselle is an Army veteran, a current major in the National Guard and rookie cop who graduated from the Allentown Police Academy in December. Roselle was released on $75,000 unsecured bail.

Sunday’s event was mostly peaceful, with the exception of an appearance by one woman who told Roselle’s supporters they were “promoting murder,” according to the Morning Call newspaper. Upper Macungie Township police then arrived to watch the exchange, according to the report.

The rally in support of Roselle was at the same time an interfaith service was being held Sunday in Santos’ memory at Resurrected Life Church, 144 N. 9th St. in Allentown. There were no protestors outside the church when the service began.

DA: Officer told authorities he ‘f—– up’ after fatal shooting

Sunday’s demonstration also was held just a short distance away from the site of one 12 days earlier for Santos. Roselle’s supporters said they couldn’t get past Santos not following repeated commands to get on the ground, in which they believe led to his death.

“When it comes to law enforcement, these are unsung heroes … who have gotten a bad rap in the last decade or so,” said Chris Ford, of New Tripoli. “We’re seeing less ability for civilians to stand up (and support police) and these officers go out every day and risk their lives every day.”

Roxane Stout of Salisbury Township said her son Sgt. James Stout worked with Roselle in providing security to Dorney Park. Her son explained to her how difficult it is sometimes in police work to make split second decisions — something that changed Roxane Stout’s mind about the case, she said.

“People don’t realize officers have a split second — I tell them to blink their eyes. And can you make a decision that quick? Can you decide are you in danger or not?,” she asked. “I don’t think people understand what a split second means. And then have to come to your own conclusion.”

Corey Fatzinger was one of the organizers of Sunday’s rally. He said he merged his Facebook page with another Facebook page titled “Support Officer Johnathan Roselle and Our Men and Women in Blue.” The woman who started that page declined to give her name, telling an NJ Advance Media photographer she feared a backlash of threats.

Fatzinger said he has two family members in law enforcement and that the incident hit home.

“I think what happened to the officer was wrong, he did his job,” Fatzinger said. “That could have been my family member. If the guy (Santos) just got down on the ground and listened to the officer’s commands, there would be no protest.”

While there were no speakers at the rally, several carried signs and many shouted, applauded and gave the thumbs up to passers-by motorists honking horns. At least one patrol vehicle honked their horn at the group as it drove along Hamilton Boulevard.

Lisa Mearkle of Hummelstown, Dauphin County, echoed the difficulty in doing the job of a police officer, saying it’s hard for someone to risk their life every day protecting the public.

“I believe the majority of police officers do their jobs the right way and have good intentions,” she said. “I don’t believe Officer Roselle went to work saying, ‘I’m going to kill somebody.’ His intentions were to go to work to do a good job for the community, be a good police officer and go home to his family at the end of the day.”

The interfaith service for Santos was organized by Make the Road PA and other activist groups that have protested the shooting and called for an end to police brutality. Barbara Redmond, secretary of the NAACP Allentown Branch, said there was a good turnout in support of Santos’ family Sunday.

Redmond, who was present at the rally in support of Roselle, called the event insensitive at the scene where Santos died. She said it should have been moved to another location in the township.

“It’s very insensitive and disrespectful to the family. How would you feel if this was your family at this time?,” she asked. “We have nothing against the police, but we’re against police brutality.”

Pamela Sroka-Holzmann may be reached at pholzmann@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow her on Twitter @pamholzmann. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

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