Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

Tampa police use Taser to shock man playing Pokémon Go after park closed (w/video)

TAMPA — The regulars at Ballast Point Park wish Pokémon Go would just go away.

The waterfront park has become a digital hub attracting those obsessed with the smartphone game. The park is overrun day and night. Regulars battle newcomers for parking spots. The park closes at dusk, but dozens refuse to leave. They play the augmented reality game late into the night.

One Pokémon Go player took it too far Thursday, according to Tampa police, and ended up being shocked by a Taser and handcuffed.

David T. Mastrototaro-Baermude, 20, was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and trespassing. It's the first arrest in Tampa directly related to the gaming phenomena.

Tampa police said about 150 people were in the park after it closed at dusk Thursday. Neighbors complained there still people there at 10:30 p.m.

When officers arrived and asked people to leave, the crowd obliged — except, police said, Mastrototaro-Baermude.

Another Pokémon Go player, Carlos Leguen, 26, captured video of the confrontation that ensued between police officers and Mastrototaro-Baermude and police on camera. With two video clips posted to Instagram , Leguen wrote that the disgruntled player told an officer "he will shoot him in the head," according to a Tampa police news release.

Mastrototaro-Baermude's arrest report said he told also told the officer that "cops should be shot and killed."

In the first video clip, Mastrototaro-Baermude's aunt tries to calm him.

"Your ... mother needs to teach you better," she yelled.

The camera cut off as he entered the passenger side of a car. Police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said as the aunt spoke with the officer to apologize, Mastrototaro-Baermude got back out the car and started making threats. He refused several orders to leave, police said.

Tampa Bay Pokémon Go guide: How to get started, stay safe and find more Pokémon

Police said they tried to arrest Mastrototaro-Baermude but he "grabbed an officer's arm and pushed off."

He continued to resist attempts to place him under arrest, police said, nearly pulling an officer to the ground. After that, an officer took out his Taser and stunned Mastrototaro-Baermude, police said.

Leguen said he saw the officer grab at Mastrototaro-Baermude and then the 20-year-old "brush him off."

"I didn't see him being violent with the cop other than what he said," Leuguen told the Tampa Bay Times.

Leguen's second video clip started moments before the Taser was used. It showed Mastrototaro-Baermude standing several feet away from an officer. While shocking Mastrototaro-Baermude, the officer told him to get on the ground. "Please don't do that to him," the aunt yelled. "I told you, he has problems."

Mastrototaro-Baermude was then arrested and handcuffed.

Leguen said the arrested player "ruined it for everyone" who was there looking for the imaginary, digital Pokémon creatures. But police say the park has had issues before.

"We've responded to complaints in the past of people trespassing in the (Ballast) park for the purpose of finding Pokémon," McGregor said.

All Tampa parks are open from dawn to dusk. But the five "Pokéstops" within the waterfront park — which allow players to collect items for game play — draw gamers in after hours.

"There are these Pokémon people all over the place," said Kay Gerard Gerard, 75. "We pay to come to this gym and now we can't find a place to park."

She exercises at the rec center there five days a week.

"But this is a public park," interjected her workout buddy, 71-year-old Florence Hassell. "It's not like you can exclude anybody."

The players say they're out to have fun and people shouldn't judge them by the players making headlines after run-ins with police.

"If you're going to play the game, don't get rowdy," said 54-year-old temp worker Rudena Fernandez. "If you're asked to leave, then fine, leave."

The Brigantine town homes are next to the park. Resident Fred DiBella, 69, said he "doesn't know anything about that stupid game." But the city needs to make sure a gate that closes off the public parking lot closest to the Brigantine is working.

"The easy solution is fix the gate and keep it fixed," DiBella said. "The harder solution is we call the non-emergency police number and then somebody gets tased because they're an idiot."

Mastrototaro-Baermude was being held late Friday in the Hillsborough County jail in lieu of $2,250 bail.

Times staff writer Sam Howard contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

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