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Video of Tampa officer's forceful arrest of teen skateboarder draws concern

A YouTube video showing the arrest Sunday of a 15-year-old skateboarder in downtown Tampa is generating controversy online. The skateboarder is seen trying to pull away before the officer yanks harder, sending both of them to the ground. The police report said that hours before the arrest, the officers warned the 15-year-old and other teens that skateboarding was prohibited in the downtown business district by city ordinance. [Image from FlaFilming YouTube]
Published May 19, 2016

TAMPA — A YouTube video showing the arrest Sunday of a 15-year-old skateboarder in downtown Tampa is generating controversy online.

The video, posted online Monday, depicts the arrest of the teen whom Tampa police said was skateboarding on N Franklin Street, near City Hall. A Tampa police cruiser was seen rolling south on the brick paved road before stopping. Two officers got out of the car. The officer who was driving approached the teen and grabbed his left arm.

The skateboarder was seen trying to pull away before the officer yanked harder, sending both of them to the ground. The officers then stood the boy up, searched and handcuffed him alongside the police cruiser while he repeatedly screamed "help me!"

In the two days since it was posted, the video has attracted more than 30,000 views and drawn anti-police sentiment.

"We got permission to skate this spot from the security guard and the police still showed up," read the video caption. "The officer that threw him wouldn't give me his name or badge number. (The skateboarder) ended up being charged with resisting arrest, and sprained his ankle from the takedown."

The officer who made the arrest was Erik Turner. His partner was Matthew Klimkoski. Tampa police did not identify the skateboarder because of his age. His name is listed on the YouTube video, but could not be confirmed by the Tampa Bay Times.

Turner's report from the incident offered more details about what the officer said took place before and after the confrontation. The report said that hours before the arrest, Klimkoski warned the 15-year-old and other teens that skateboarding was prohibited in the downtown business district by city ordinance.

Later, the officers said they saw the same group skating in front of City Hall. Klimkoski recalled the 15-year-old as one of the skateboarders he had warned previously, according to the report.

When Turner went to detain the 15-year-old, the officer said the teen tensed his body and tried to pull away. Turner said he tried to take the teen to the ground using a leg sweep, but lost his balance and fell, pulling the boy down with him.

The 15-year-old was not injured in the incident, according to the report.

The teen was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center on charges of resisting arrest without violence and violating the city ordinance against skateboarding.

Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty said Wednesday that the department was aware of the video. He noted that the skateboarders had been warned about the ordinance prohibiting skateboarding in the downtown business district.

Still, Hegarty said, concerns from citizens have prompted Chief Eric Ward to review the video and the actions of the officers.

Online comments on the video chastised the officers.

"Excessive use of force on a 15-year-old kid," wrote one commenter. "And the cops still wonder why the public doesn't trust them."

"Goes to show you how stupid the Tampa police department is," wrote another.

But policing experts who viewed the video at the request of the Times said that, based on what was recorded, it appears the officers did nothing wrong.

"When a police officer moves to control a citizen, it's never going to look good," said David Klinger, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Klinger noted that when the teen showed signs of resistance, the officer responded by trying to take the 15-year-old to the ground. That is in keeping with the recommended responses used by most police departments to various levels of resistance.

Such recommended responses are often referred to as a "use-of-force continuum" by law enforcement. They begin with things like verbal commands and can progress to physical force if a person demonstrates passive resistance (standing still when told to move), or active resistance (trying to run).

"The first step is referred to as 'firm grip," said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "and this is what I observed (in the video) but due to the resistance of the teen they both ended on the ground, which was not necessarily the initial intention of the officer."

When Turner falls, the video shows he has one foot planted on an area over the curb, while the other is in the street, Klinger said. It is reasonable to assume that he could have lost his balance, the professor said, thus taking the teen down with him.

"To me, it's no big deal," Klinger said. "Stuff like that happens."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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