A Johnston County law enforcement officer was indicted by a Grand Jury Tuesday afternoon for involuntary manslaughter.
The charges were filed in connection with the death of a suspect tasered by the police officer following a chase earlier this year.
Kenly police officer Jesse Santifort had been under investigation since a March 3rd high speed pursuit that began near Kenly and ended outside of Smithfield.
Santifort began chasing a pickup truck driven by Alexander Warren Thompson of Smithfield. The chased 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.
Immediately after the pursuit, the District Attorney’s Office blocked the release of police radio traffic for 30 days. WTSB News obtained a copy of the audio in April after the court order was lifted. It revealed Officer Santifort made a questionable comment about Thompson after tasering him. “…he’s a little electrified at this moment but I uh think we’ve come to an understanding.”
Moments later Santifort asked for an ambulance, then an officer is heard saying CPR was in progress.
Kenly Police Chief Cleared Santifort To Return To Work
Following an internal investigation, Santifort was cleared by Kenly Police Chief Josh Gibson to return to duty. Later he was placed on desk duty by Town Manager Greg Dunham who said the officer is no longer on “active” law enforcement patrol in Kenly and works in the police department office and helps identify code enforcement issues. He is now a reserve officer on the department.
Even though Santifort was cleared internally, 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 Santifort to a Johnston County Grand Jury today. The grand jury returned a true bill of indictment against the law enforcement officer this afternoon charging him with one count of involuntary manslaughter for Thompson’s death.
27 Charges Filed By Officer Dismissed
In June, 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 back in June 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 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. Photos by John Payne