New Jersey Cop Facing Charges After Hitting A Man With His Car And Driving His Body To His Mom's House

from the whole-lot-of-wtf-going-on-here dept

There’s something different about being a cop. The training, the atmosphere, the culture… all of it leads to officers handling crime differently than regular people. Even when they’re the ones committing it.

A normal person doesn’t do the things Newark police officer Luis Santiago did. While driving on the Garden State Parkway, Santiago struck and killed 29-year-old Damian Dymka. This is what Officer Santiago (who was off-duty and in his own vehicle) — with all his training, expertise, and knowledge of applicable laws — did next:

After striking Dymka, who was a nurse, neither Santiago or his passenger, Albert Guzman, 25, of Newark, called 911 or tried to render aid.

“(The suspects) returned to the scene multiple times before Santiago loaded the victim into the Honda and removed him from the scene,” [Essex County Prosecutor Theodore] Stephens said. “Santiago then took the body to his home in Bloomfield where he, his mother and Guzman allegedly discussed what to do with the body.”

Eventually, Santiago drove Dymka’s body back to the scene of the crash, Stephens said.

It took another cop to finally end this dark and bleak farce.

Santiago’s father, who is a lieutenant in the Newark Police Department, called 911 and reported that his son was in an accident, Stephens said.

State troopers responded to the scene of at least one crime and came across Officer Santiago and his passenger. They also came across Dymka’s dead body, which was lying in the back of Santiago’s Honda.

More than three weeks after this happened, Officer Santiago is facing a long list [PDF] of criminal charges.

In addition to vehicular homicide, Santiago was charged with leaving the scene of crash resulting in death, endangering an injured victim, desecrating/moving human remains, hindering one’s own apprehension, conspiracy to hinder prosecution, tampering with physical evidence, obstructing the administration of law, and two counts of official misconduct.

Santiago’s co-conspirator/passenger (Albert Guzman) is facing many of the same charges. The officer’s mother — Annette Santiago — is facing the same charges as Guzman, given her alleged assistance in attempting to cover up Dymka’s killing.

It’s all very surreal and horrifying. Some drivers might panic when they hit a pedestrian. Very few of them will leave and return to the scene several times before driving the victim’s now-dead body out to their parents’ house to discuss what to do about it.

Maybe it’s a law enforcement thing. This incident is somewhat similar to the bizarre actions of South Dakota attorney general Jason Ravnsborg after he struck and killed a pedestrian. While Ravnsborg did call 911 within minutes of the accident, he claimed he had no idea what he had hit. He returned to the accident scene the next day and allegedly “discovered” the body of the man he had struck and killed, 55-year-old Joseph Boever. Investigators found the victim’s broken glasses inside Ravnsborg’s vehicle, casting doubt on his claim that he didn’t know what he had hit until the next day. Investigators also pointed out Boever had been carrying a flashlight, which Ravnsborg denied seeing. The flashlight was near Boever’s body and still on when investigators arrived at the scene the following morning.

These aren’t normal reactions. These are the actions of people who think they have a better chance than most to escape any culpability for their actions. Most people would not compound criminal charges after striking a pedestrian. But Officer Santiago did. And, worse, he was surrounded by enablers unwilling to deter him from turning a pedestrian accident into something far worse than a hit-and-run.

But equally as surreal are the statements released by the State Police, who had encountered this bizarre scene and found a driver with a dead body in his car. While it’s understandable that public statements wouldn’t include any accusations of wrongdoing while an investigation was underway, the State Police withheld any information on the driver, giving residents the impression this was a normal accident involving just some guy… and that it really might be the fault of the person who was killed.

State police say a man from Garfield was killed after being struck by a car while walking on the Garden State Parkway.

The accident happened Monday morning near Exit 151.

State police is unsure why the pedestrian was walking on the highway.

His identification is pending family verification. The driver involved was not injured.

Just the facts. I mean, it’s all factual but it leaves out all the interesting facts, like the body in the back of the car, or the driver being a public servant. Three weeks later, the truth is out. And chances are that if this had involved a regular person rather than a cop, a few of the more unusual details (like the body in the car) would have been added to initial press statements.

Prosecutors won’t have to do much to prove intent. Someone who isn’t trying to evade responsibility for striking a pedestrian with their car simply doesn’t do the things alleged here. And someone who’s a cop should definitely never do these things because they’re supposed to be holding themselves to a higher standard, even when they’re off-duty. It looks like Officer Santiago rolled the dice on being a cop, possibly assuming that would be enough to allow him to escape accountability. That gamble failed to pay off and now Officer Santiago is going to have to face the consequences of his completely inexplicable actions.

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Comments on “New Jersey Cop Facing Charges After Hitting A Man With His Car And Driving His Body To His Mom's House”

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48 Comments
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That One Guy (profile) says:

Not helping yourself there state police

The response by the state police is particularly repugnant and hypocritical as I’ve no doubt that if an off-duty officer had been killed by a driver they wouldn’t have released a vague statement with the ‘hint’ that the officer had it coming but would be trumpeting the name of the driver to every press outlet they could contact, and that’s even without the steps the killer took to try to weasel out of taking responsibility for their actions.

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btr1701 (profile) says:

Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

In addition to vehicular homicide, Santiago was charged
with leaving the scene of crash resulting in death,
endangering an injured victim, desecrating/moving human
remains, hindering one’s own apprehension, conspiracy
to hinder prosecution, tampering with physical evidence,
obstructing the administration of law, and two counts of
official misconduct.

Sounds like the system is working as intended, then. A couple of guys committed some crimes and they’re gonna have to pay the price for it. Unless TechDirt has officially become nothing more than a crime blotter, how is this newsworthy here?

And some of those charges… "endangering an injured victim"? How do you endanger someone who’s already dead?

And "hindering one’s own apprehension"? Wouldn’t that apply to literally every criminal? I mean, unless the criminal walks directly from the scene of his crime and voluntarily turns himself into the police, wouldn’t he be hindering his own apprehension?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

And some of those charges… "endangering an injured victim"? How do you endanger someone who’s already dead?

Nothing proves the victim died on the spot. Might have been alive for a little while. Calling 911 immediately might have saved his life. Might not, we’ll never know for sure, but an autopsy might give hints. The charge is probably there because of this possibility.

And "hindering one’s own apprehension"? Wouldn’t that apply to literally every criminal?

I was also interested in this one, but this might have something to do with the fact that the suspect is a cop. Trying to game the system in ways normal citizens can’t might result in additional charges.

First I hear of this one though. Would be pretty funny if the circumstances weren’t so dramatic.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

That hindering charge might be a passive-aggressive form of the resisting arrest police like to slap on even the most compliant suspects. After all, we’ve seen resisting arrest charges making it to a judge despite suspects being so compliant their only visible resistance was failure to teleport themselves into a cell with a signed confession in hand, many times before.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

"Sounds like the system is working as intended, then. A couple of guys committed some crimes and they’re gonna have to pay the price for it."

A pair of trained law enforcement officers demonstrated neither of them had a clue what to do when they performed a hit-and-run vehicular homicide. Then asked for what amounts to help in disposing of the body while covering up their crime. And ended up driving around with the body stashed in the trunk of their car.

No, the system did not work as intended when it manages to hand the right to enforce the violence monopoly to morons of this caliber. The closest comparison I can envision would be the fire department indeed sending firefighters to the scene where one of their numbers stands gazing at a burning building with a silly grin and mumbling "The fire. It speaks to me" while holding an empty gas canister.

This is not a single acceptable mistake. It’s a long string of incomprehensible decisions so outrageously dumb the worst cop parodies in comedy won’t measure up to them.

"…how is this newsworthy here?"

The literal blog description might offer you a clue there;

the Techdirt blog relies on a proven economic framework to analyze and offer insight into news stories about changes in government policy, technology and legal issues that affect companies’ ability to innovate and grow. As the impact of technological innovation on society, civil liberties and consumer rights has grown, Techdirt’s coverage has expanded to include these critical topics.

  • Techdirt’s "About Us" blurb.

"And "hindering one’s own apprehension"? Wouldn’t that apply to literally every criminal?"

That and about a hundred other charges, probably, if the prosecutor feels mean that day, Loitering With Intent or Being Bloody Stupid.

The US practices a much higher degree of prosecutorial discretion than most other countries (common visavi civil law). Thus the standard US prosecution involves throwing the book at any suspect and then convince said suspect to fess up to what’ll get them five to ten in the slammer rather than a total sum of about three lifetimes worth. From the pov of the prosecution this saves valuable court time since all they need to do is to file the accused’s plea of nolo contendere to crimes A, B and C.

From the pov of the suspect it usually means "not doing time until they’re 80".

I always feel a certain cognitive dissonance when I, a european, know standard US prosecutorial conduct better than the average american. You really shouldn’t have to ask that question.

One of the key issues with this aspect of common law is that it in practice means the prosecutor can almost invariably secure the condemnation of an innocent person by way of intimidation, without the case ever going to trial.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes

And some of those charges… "endangering an injured victim"?

How many times was the victim still alive when they revisited the scene? Maybe they were hoping that somebody else would call for help, until they discovered it was too late and tried to hide the body.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hindeing your own apprehension

"Wouldn’t not turning yourself in both show intent to obstruct and impede the investigation?"

Burden of proof.

Intent to obstruct is harder to prove. All the accused needs to do is to make the claim they were so upset they couldn’t think straight – therefore they had no "intent" to obstruct, but it’s clearly provable their actions hindered the investigation.

It’s the same difference as that between murder one and manslaughter. In one case you assaulted with intent to kill, in the other intent to kill can not be proven but there’s still a dead body as the result of the assault.

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Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Blue Privilege

This is what blue privilege looks like. Thinking you can get away with the most outrageous behavior because you wear a uniform. Similar past behavior and dubious legal outcomes thanks to QI won’t help, except in attracting the wrong types to the profession and driving the good ones away. For a police officer, claiming to be confused after an incident like this should be damning as well, as officers should be selected and trained on how to deal with and de-escalte crisis situations.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Blue Privilege

The USA is the only country where highly trained law enforcement professionals are allowed to panic on duty and act crazy – but untrained citizens are required, under penalty of summary execution, to remain perfectly calm no matter how crazy the cops act or how many guns are pointed at them.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

"“(The suspects) returned to the scene multiple times before Santiago loaded the victim into the Honda and removed him from the scene,” [Essex County Prosecutor Theodore] Stephens said. “Santiago then took the body to his home in Bloomfield where he, his mother and Guzman allegedly discussed what to do with the body.”"

How could this sad sack of unadulterated moron even pass police training let alone remain an officer?

Or that’s what I’d ask if similar deranged nonsense didn’t come out of the US every week…

James says:

Re: Shouldn't Qualified Immunity apply here?

Qualified immunity is for civil actions, not criminal. In criminal actions, immunity is there if the officer was in a self-defense situation, or is purported to be in a self defense situation and that’s if it’s reasonable for a court to believe that that is what was happening.

However, even for civil charges in a situation like this, qualified immunity wouldn’t be able to be applied because the officer wasn’t doing this while doing their job, this was off duty.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

This is a cop family

Father cop was the one calling 911 to get police to handle this, and at least got this rather restrained news report as a "thank you".

It really makes you wonder just how his wife and son became of the opinion that they could get away with a hit-and-run-with-the-corpse. There likely is a family history here. What did the father choose to teach his son? What did he choose to bury previous to this thing that was sort of impossible to bury?

The way everybody involved handled this makes it unlikely it was totally different from things they did previously. This just does not have the looks of a one-off when mother and passenger just run along with it.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Will they? These alleged criminals (they’ve not been found guilty yet) will be tried as individuals, not as public servants. So there’s no justification for the public purse to be troubled by any fines, or even for footing the cost of their legal representation (unless there is a Legal Aid system like that available to the poorest in the UK, but that’s a side question).
The correct outcome, should they be found guilty, is custodial sentences for Santiago and Guzman. I don’t know how the courts are likely to treat Santiago’s mother for her ‘contribution’ but unless she’s dirt poor, an illegal immigrant or just too hispanic-looking, I don’t imagine a custodial sentence is the ‘appropriate’ answer.
But who knows, with the US ‘justice’ system.

Bergman (profile) says:

“ While it’s understandable that public statements wouldn’t include any accusations of wrongdoing while an investigation was underway”

No it’s not understandable at all. Just look at any of the thousands of police press releases over the last decade alone that were very specific about what was done that was wrong, naming names about who did those things. Those public statements ALWAYS come out long before the investigation is completed, when the suspect is not a cop.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think that’s what really gets to me.

Sure, we’ve got a moron with a badge. He hits someone with his car. He and his passenger procrastinate over what to do, what to do, going away and coming back to the body multiple times.

Then decides to drive it back home to his actual mom??

Just how high on the entitled shitwit scale of outrageous douchebaggery do you need to be if you view a dead body as something within the purview of good ol’ mum? WHAT the actual fuck? Who is this paragon of motherhood that her sons believes her sage advice includes the disposition of bodies?

Ma Baker?

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Disappointed

I find myself a bit disappointed. Usually in these cases they find a way to make the victim responsible. Something like perhaps…

The pedestrian, Dymka, irresponsibly walked in front of Santiago’s car. To avoid prosecution, Dymka then refused to allow Santiago or Guzman to call 911. But Santiago was concerned and so he returned to the scene several times in an heroic effort to convince Dymka that 911 should be called.

The last time, Dymka stole Santiago’s car and drove it to Santiago’s mother’s house, where he then crawled into the back seat of the vehicle and expired.

You know, some believable explanation like that, that turns Dymka into a thug and makes Santiago the hero. An explanation that migiht not pass the smell test, but that puts the blame squarely where it "belongs."

Like the story about the woman who shot herself in the temple — after being searched for weapons, handcuffed behind her back and placed in the back seat of a cruiser — and with an officer there in the seat next to her, questioning her.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why cops get shot

This is why cops get shot and why people hate them. Not advocating that anybody shoot anybody except out of self-defense, but people who have anger management issues who hate cops go after cops for this very reason. Worse yet is when cops treat everyone like criminals because 1% of people are criminals but then when something like this happens, they’ll be like "oh yeah but 99% of cops are good…" yeah bullsh*t.

Keep doing sh*t like this and people will keep shooting at you, that’s all that I’m saying…and if one of your cop buddies might do something like this, report them instead of helping them cover it up…maybe earn some respect instead of demanding it just because you have a badge.

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