A confrontation between skateboarders and police outside the Boston Public Library Wednesday evening ended with two teenagers on the ground and under arrest, as some bystanders questioned the officers' use of force.
One of the teens was charged with assault and battery on a police officer — a charge complicated by the fact that the officer was on-duty but not in uniform. The second teen was tackled after swearing and making crude gestures at police.
“Hell broke loose; it was crazy,” said Maty Cropley, 45, of Boston, who witnessed the episode and captured video. Cropley does not know the skateboarders but said in an interview with WBUR on Thursday that she was walking home from work when she noticed a commotion by the library steps on Dartmouth Street.
According to Boston police, an officer responded shortly before 8 p.m. to a complaint from library security about “at least 10 skateboarders being disruptive.” “No skateboarding” signs are posted around the Copley Square landmark.
The responding officer, Edward Gately, wrote in his arrest report that skateboarding “is a common nuisance to the library staff, the patrons that try to walk into the library and the tourists that visit the area.”
Gately wrote that he picked up a skateboard from the ground and directed the skateboarders to leave, but they refused. One of the skateboarders, Kevin Zheng, 17, of Belmont, told WBUR on Thursday that he and his friends initially agreed to leave but then insisted Gately return the board first. It belonged to a friend, they said, who had stepped into a store before the police arrived.
Grainy cellphone footage appears to show D’Marco Santos, 18, of Brockton, snatching the board away from Gately and attempting to flee. The video was shot by a skateboarder who shared it with a WBUR reporter at the scene, on the condition of anonymity because he fears retribution from police. A man in a maroon shirt and khaki shorts pursues Santos, the video shows, and brings Santos to the ground after a brief struggle. They appear to exchange punches.
The man in the maroon shirt was a plainclothes police officer, identified in a court filing as Sgt. Kenneth Turner. But according to Zheng and Jack Kradolfer, another skateboarder who says he saw what happened, the skateboarders thought Turner was a vigilante.
“The plainclothes officer never revealed his badge to any of us,” Kradolfer, 22, of Jamaica Plain, said in a phone interview after the incident. “Never revealed his I.D. number or that he was an officer, and he tried to grab D’Marco. D’Marco punched this plainclothes officer.”
Zheng contended Santos would not have thrown a punch, had he known the man chasing him was a police officer.
“Obviously, if you know someone’s a police officer, and if you’re African-American, something bad might happen,” Zheng said. “Just from past experiences, everyone knows not to mess around with police officers.”
Boston police declined to say whether Turner identified himself to the skateboarders as an officer. Boston police referred questions to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office; officials there said they had no details beyond the police report.
Santos was charged with assault and battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, trespassing, and disturbing the peace. According to Gately’s report, Santos left a lump on the left ear of Turner, who also sustained cuts on both knees.
Post-arrest photos of Santos, shared with WBUR by Zheng, show dried blood in Santos’s left nostril and under his lip, and scrapes on his chest, back, shoulders and left arm.
A second skateboarder, James Derocher, 18, of Watertown, was charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace. Derocher and Santos appeared in Boston Municipal Court Thursday morning and declined to speak with a reporter. An arraignment is set for July 18. The district attorney’s office said both teens were released.
In the video shot by Cropley, a shirtless Santos can be seen facedown on the sidewalk, as Turner kneels on Santos’ head and handcuffs him with the help of a uniformed officer. A voice repeatedly says, “I’m sorry,” though it is not clear whether the voice belongs to Santos.
In the background, Derocher flips off police, while retreating toward the library steps.
“He was jawing at the cops; he was totally jawing at them,” Cropley said. “But he wasn’t doing anything.”
From out of the video frame, Gately jogs toward Derocher, who sees him coming and tries to run. A voice shouts, “Grab him!” Another officer then tackles Derocher.
“I don’t know why that happened,” Kradolfer said. “I don’t know why they pinned him.”
Gately wrote in his report that he had tried to arrest Derocher before the altercation with Santos but that Derocher “fled the area. … Derocher then returned onto the property, continuing to yell and scream, and at this time he was placed under arrest.”
WBUR’s Quincy Walters contributed reporting.