The NC Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a Kenly police officer charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a suspect following a 2016 high speed chase and tasering.
The Court ruled today (Tuesday) against the Johnston County District Attorney’s Office who had obtained the personnel files of Officer Jesse Santifort as part of their criminal investigation. The information obtained in those files by prosecutors can not be used in court.
In a statement District Attorney Susan Doyle said, “The District Attorney’s Office respects the ruling from The Court of Appeals in the case of State v. Jesse Santifort. The ruling, which involves the State’s acquisition of the defendant’s personnel records from prior employers, in no way affects the pending criminal case against the defendant. The State still intends to prosecute the defendant for the crime that he committed against the victim, Alexander Thompson.”
On March 3, 2016, Officer Santifort was involved in a high speed chase involving Thompson. The chase ended when Thompson ran off US 70 East of Smithfield. During a confrontation the 37 year-old man was reportedly tasered four times by Santifort before Thompson collapsed. He died three days later at Wake Medical Center.
Even though Santifort was cleared internally by Kenly Police and allowed to return to duty, a separate investigation by the NC State Bureau of Investigation was launched and the findings turned over to District Attorney Susan Doyle in May for her review to determine if the officer acted properly and within the law.
The Johnston County District Attorney’s Office presented the case involving Officer Santifort to a Johnston County Grand Jury in September 2016 and the grand jury returned a true bill of indictment against the law enforcement officer charging him with one count of involuntary manslaughter for Thompson’s death.
In June 2016, 27 traffic and criminal charges filed by Santifort against 12 people were dismissed by the district attorney’s office. Doyle released a statement to WTSB after the charges were dropped by her office saying, “Once the District Attorney’s Office gained access and reviewed Santifort’s personnel records, we were ethically prohibited from calling him as a witness to testify in any case from that point forward. That is when the decision was made to dismiss all pending cases.”
Those personnel records are not considered public record under NC law and could not be obtained by WTSB.
The 27 charges dismissed last year included four drug offenses, 3 DWI’s, two child abuse, and a felony obtaining property by false pretense. The others ranged from misdemeanor criminal to traffic violations.
An autopsy report on Alexander Thompson released in May 2016 indicated his death was due to a homicide. The medical examiner report said officers saw Thompson “consume some type of red liquid and then flee on foot.” The barbs from the taser fired by police struck Thompson in the chest area. A total of 4 shocks were applied. Thompson then fell forward, rolled onto his back, and became unresponsive. He was never restrained by officers and no handcuffs were applied.
At the hospital a drug screen detected amphetamines and cannabinoids in Thompson’s system.
The coroner ruled Thompson’s death was caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain following “conducted electrical weapon application” with acute methamphetamine intoxication and thickening of the myocardium of the left ventricle of the heart. “The manner of death is classified as a homicide,” according to the 7 page report signed by Dr. Craig Nelson.