Florida Man Charged for Detaining Black Teen Going to Basketball Practice

Last Saturday, a 54-year-old man named Luis Santos was arrested and charged with false imprisonment for illegally detaining a Black teenager who was bicycling on his way to basketball practice.

On June 9 at 5:34 a.m., Santos stopped the unnamed teenager and inquired about where he lived. When the teenager recited his address twice, Santos exited his car and said, "You're not going anywhere. You're being detained."

The teenager responded, "I'm sorry?" and stammered while asking, "Can I go?"

Santos recorded their encounter up to this point on his cell phone, but the transcript of his call to 911 showed that he identified himself to the 911 dispatcher as an off-duty police officer. He also claimed that he had video evidence of the teen breaking into cars and that the teen had possibly stolen the bike he was riding.

Prosecutors said that during his interaction with the teen, Santos gestured towards his own pocket as if to imply that he had a gun, compelling the teen to raise his arms above his head.

"The victim was visibly shaken and hyperventilating when deputies arrived, with his hands still over his head," said the office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. "He reasonably believed his life may be in jeopardy if he tried to leave or even move."

The teenager has gotten a lawyer, and Santos now faces charges of false imprisonment, a third-degree felony. Santos could face up to five years in prison if he's convicted.

"We don't want people taking the law into their own hands. 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," Warren told WFLA.

A spokesperson for the teen's family, former WWE pro-wrestler Titus O'Neil, called the teen "a very respectful young man who is an excellent student-athlete preparing to go to college in the fall."

Luis Santos Seffner Florida Black basketball detained
A young Black person throws a basketball. jrroman/Getty

Santos' alleged vigilanteism evokes memories of George Zimmerman, a Peruvian German American man who fatally shot 17-year-old Black high school student Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012.

Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch coordinator in a gated community where eight burglaries and nine thefts had occurred the year prior. After spotting Martin walking home from the convenience store, Zimmerman suspected Martin of possible wrongdoing and reported his presence to the Sanford police non-emergency number.

After an alleged fight with Martin, Zimmerman then shot and killed Martin 70 yards away from the house where he was visiting his father's fiancée. Martin was unarmed, and Zimmerman wasn't arrested because he claimed he had feared for his life before killing Martin, a pre-condition in Florida's 2005 "Stand Your Ground" law.

Zimmerman was later acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in Martin's death.

Martin, like Ahmaud Arbery—a Black jogger gunned down by vigilantes in Glynn County, Georgia on February 23—has become one name of many Black Americans killed by vigilantes and police that racial justice protesters nationwide recite while demonstrating against anti-Black state-sanctioned violence.