A Superior Court judge has suspended the law-enforcement certification of a Kenly police officer charged with involuntary manslaughter in a stun-gun death.
On Sept. 6, a Johnston County grand jury indicted Jesse Santifort in the death of Alexander Warren Thompson, 37, of Smithfield. On March 3, Santifort used a stun gun on Thompson after a high-speed chase. Thompson died three days later at WakeMed in Raleigh.
Judge William Pittman suspended Santifort’s certification during hearings Nov. 3 on the officer’s bail and on the admissibility at trial of his personnel and college records.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle was in court seeking a secured bond for Santifort, who had received a $20,000 unsecured bond. Doyle said it was “very rare and very unusual” for a person charged with a felony to receive an unsecured bond. In an earlier hearing, Superior Court Judge Beecher Gray had upheld the unsecured bond but did strip Santifort of his power to make arrests after Doyle said the officer was the “biggest danger to the public “when he ... had a badge and a gun and a Taser.”
Since that earlier hearing, Santifort has appeared at the Johnston County Courthouse wearing his Kenly police uniform and carrying his department-issued gun, Doyle told Judge Pittman during the Nov. 3 hearings.
“I would argue to the court he has the full appearance of having arrest authority,” Doyle said, adding that she had gotten calls from bailiffs concerned about Santifort being armed at the courthouse and from the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office asking if Santifort needed to “be arrested for impersonating an officer.”
On the stand on Nov. 3, Kenly Police Chief Joshua Gibson said he had placed Santifort on desk duty. He does not go out on patrol, and he has made no arrests since being placed on desk duty, Gibson said. But Santifort wears the uniform and carries his sidearm, the chief testified.
At that point, Pittman suspended Santifort’s certification pending the outcome of his trial. “That way there won’t be any question” about his authority as an officer, the judge said. “I’m not going to mess with this.”
Gibson said he would make no decision on Santifort’s employment until after his trial. “I believe any man deserves a fair trial,” the chief said.
But if a jury convicts Santifort of involuntary manslaughter, Gibson said he “would have no other choice” than to fire him.
Kenly’s town manager might have beaten the police chief to the punch. On the same day Gibson was in court testifying, Town Manager Greg Dunham told a reporter that Santifort was no longer on the town’s payroll.
The town manager would not elaborate. “He’s just not an employee of the town anymore,” Dunham said.
Also on court on Nov. 3, Pittman upheld an earlier ruling allowing Doyle to use Santifort’s personnel and college records against him at trial. Santifort’s attorney, Walter Scott Webster, had sought to block the records, saying Doyle’s office did not follow proper procedure in obtaining them.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett