Officer Santon faces possible discipline after woman prisoner found unresponsive

Tisbury Police are asking for the public's help. -File photo

A 25-year member of the Tisbury Police Department is on paid administrative leave and facing a disciplinary hearing in an incident that involved a female prisoner nearly choking herself to death, according to town officials and court records.

Mark Santon, 54, is under investigation, and will be the subject of a disciplinary hearing before the board of selectmen sometime this month, Jay Grande, the town administrator, said Thursday.

Mr. Grande and Police Chief Dan Hanavan declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

According to court records, which include a police report written by Officer Santon, he was taking the 41-year-old Brazilian to Dukes County Jail. While Officer Stanton was in the jail talking with the sheriff’s deputy, the woman allegedly wiggled out of one handcuff, and when he went back to his cruiser, he “observed that the hood cord from the sweatshirt that [the woman] was wearing was tightly wrapped around her neck twice, and tied off with a knot.”

The woman was “slumped over to her right, and her torso was being held from falling out of the car by the seat belt,” the report states.

The police report does not give a definitive amount of time that Officer Stanton left the woman alone in the back of the cruiser. It describes a deputy entering the booking room “within a few minutes,” at which time Officer Stanton returned to the cruiser with a deputy to find the woman.

The woman was described as unresponsive to the deputy’s “shouts, and shaking” of her shoulders, the report states. At the time the woman had no pulse.

Officer Santon cut the cord with a knife, the report states, and called emergency medical services. Before they arrived, the woman was lifted out of the car and a pulse was detected. The woman “took a deep gasp and then began vomiting frothy mucus.”

Attempts to reach Officer Santon were unsuccessful. The Times went to his Tisbury home and left a reporter’s card with a woman who answered the door Friday.

His attorney, Bryan Decker, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

The woman had been arrested and charged with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and failure to use care in backing up, the report states. She had allegedly been involved in a motor vehicle crash near the Steamship Authority terminal on Water Street, according to the report.

Officer Santon issued a citation to the woman in the emergency room, the report states.

A call to the woman’s cell phone was not immediately returned.

Officer Santon has been on paid leave for about 10 weeks from his $83,928-per-year position, according to town officials. Officers are routinely put on paid leave during an investigation so that a police department can conduct its investigation.

The Times requested the police department’s internal investigation report, but Mr. Grande said that won’t be available until after the hearing.

Because that hearing involves discussion of “reputation, character,” and possible discipline, the state’s Open Meeting Law allows the session to be held in executive session. Officer Santon will have to be notified at least 48 hours before the hearing, and it is up to him whether the session will be in open or closed session, according to the Attorney General’s website.

In his absence from the department, Chief Hanavan said, special police officers are being used to fill in. He could not immediately say how much that is costing the department, but said the rate of pay is less than a full-time officer receives.

Cameron Machell contributed to this report.