Kenly officer charged in Taser death back in court

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ByEd Crump via WTVD logo
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Kenly officer charged in taser death back in court
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New details were revealed Thursday afternoon at the Johnston County Courthouse during a bond hearing for Kenly officer Jesse Santifort.

KENLY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Investigators have identified two eyewitnesses in the stun-gun death of a 37-year old man by a Kenly police officer, officials said Thursday.

That was among a number of new details revealed Thursday afternoon at the Johnston County Courthouse during a bond hearing for Kenly officer Jesse Santifort.

Santifort was indicted Tuesday by the Johnston County Grand Jury for involuntary manslaughter in the March death of Alex Thompson.

RELATED: Grand jury indicts Kenly police officer in taser death

Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle told the judge that while the medical examiner concluded that Thompson was high on meth and had an enlarged heart, those conditions alone would not have killed him.

"He would not have died but for the Tasing," Doyle said. "And so [the medical examiner] did say the Taser was the proximate cause of the victim's death."

Doyle also told the judge she dropped dozens of cases brought to court by Santifort after reviewing his personnel records over the years.

"We did not feel it would be ethical to ever call him as witness to testify in any case, based on the review of those personnel records and prior employment history," she explained.

Doyle remarked on Santifort's two differing accounts of the Tasing. She said Santifort first said he Tased Thompson when Thompson - who had been chased by law enforcement officers through two counties - crashed his pickup truck then jumped and ran.

She said Santifort later told the SBI that Thompson lunged at him.

RELATED: High-speed police chase ends in Johnston County

But, Doyle said, that was contradicted by two eyewitnesses.

"[The eyewitnesses] said he turns and puts both of his hands up. They said he never got out of the truck, and he never put his feet down on the ground."

Doyle added that the witnesses, "Never saw the guy in the truck attempt to get out or attempt to lunge forward."

Doyle says a computer chip in Santifort's Taser indicated he shocked Thompson four times for a total of 37 seconds in a one minute period.

RELATED: Man tasered after Johnston County chase dies days later

Despite the new testimonies, visiting Superior Court Judge Beecher Gray refused to increase Santifort's $20,000 unsecured bond set by a Johnston County Magistrate. That means Santifort did not have to post any money and did not have to go to jail.

Gray did, however, strip Santifort of his arrest powers after the D.A. said, "[Santifort's] biggest danger to the public was while he was in uniform, when he, you know, had a badge and a gun and a Taser."

But Santifort's attorney Walter Scott Webster told the judge Santifort has been carrying a gun throughout the six months since the stun-gun death. Webster also revealed that Santifort is still a Kenly police officer - a reserve officer.

Webster objected when the D.A. tried to reveal details about exactly what was in Santifort's personnel record. He also said the D.A.'s office illegally accessed those personnel records.

"A crime was committed in the way that they obtained them, so I will be filing a motion to have those recalled and actually a motion for sanctions as well for failure to comply with the rules of civil procedure."

If Webster is successful, it may never be released what it is in Santifort's past that ruined his credibility with the D.A.'s office.

Santifort's next court date is set for Oct. 3.

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