Click HERE to watch the video footage.
June 21 was Go Skateboarding Day across the United States. But for skater Matt McCormack and handful of others in Hot Springs, Ark., celebrating the unofficial holiday by hopping on their boards landed them behind bars and under house arrest.
According to the skaters, Police Officer Joey Williams used excessive force in apprehending them for violating a city ordinance against skateboarding on the street. They have circulated a video of the incident on YouTube that has garnered almost a million views since it was posted June 25 and landed Williams at the center of an internal misconduct investigation and on paid leave from his post.
Caught on Tape
McCormack, 21, who shot the video and posted it on YouTube, told ABC News that he always carries a digital camera while skating, as he is gathering material for a local skate shop and feels particularly fortunate to have caught this incident.
"On YouTube you can see [Williams] choking the 13-year-old girl," McCormack said. "I think it's wrong. He was calling us thugs, but if you think about it, we were a whole bunch of kids and none of us had any drugs on us or anything like that. That's not that thuggish."
McCormack told ABC that although he and the other skaters did know it was illegal to ride on the sidewalk, they had ridden there before and were never warned or threatened with arrest. He is more concerned with the excessive force he feels Williams used when the officer appeared to put a 13-year-old girl ? the youngest in their skating group ? in a chokehold.
"He could have just grabbed us by the arm and stopped us and then that would've been it," McCormack said.
Despite repeated attempts on behalf of ABC News, Williams could not be reached through the Hot Springs Police Department. However, fellow Officer Clifford McNeely said the incident was brought to the department's attention when a citizen sent the YouTube video to a department administrator.
"He is under paid administrative leave and is under investigation," McNeely said. "The matter will be investigated by senior officers and the chief."
McNeely added that the grass roots Internet effort by the skaters has spawned a deluge of calls and e-mails to the department.
"We are getting so many calls that people with problems are not getting through," McNeely said, adding that 911 calls come in to a separate line. "The administrative line is flooded. It's a lot of young people. Some call and want to file a complaint, but some call and cuss us."
McNeely said the kids should have known not to skate in downtown Hot Springs.
"It's posted no skateboarding," McNeely said. "There is just one street and its usually very crowded. Usually, there is a citation or a warning given, but people could be taken to jail."
Officer M.J. Means, the public information officer for the department, added that the department had also been receiving some calls from citizens who support Williams. "They understand that it's a city ordinance," he said.
John Bernard, executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies, a nonprofit organization that promotes the annual Go Skateboarding Day, told ABC News that he believes skater prejudice could have been a factor in the arrests.
"Skateboarders are discriminated against," Bernard said. "Police cannot wait to hand kids a $30-$300 ticket. … One of my missions is to meet with sheriffs' departments and the League of Cities, etc., to educate them about the sport."
Bernard said that IASC statistics count more than 20 million active skateboarders in the United States, which is more than the number of young people involved in Little League Baseball.
"Skateboarding is not a crime," Bernard said, "Well, I guess, unless you live in Arkansas."
Call, E-mail, Myspace
Hundred of skaters and concerned Internet users, especially teens, have been posting the video on blogs, MySpace and Facebook pages, calling the incident an example of "police brutality" and encouraging others to flood the Police Department with calls.
"Call, e-mail, myspace and demand that Joey NOT be paid for choking children," reads a post on the Facebook group devoted to the incident, "Call ALL numbers. Leave a msg on phone 3."
While McCormack, who was arrested by Williams but is not seen in the video, is pleased with the overwhelming response, he hastens to add that "excessive force" is probably a better term for what happened than "brutality."
"The posts might be a bit excessive," McCormack said.
McCormack also recognized that some viewers have responded to the video by supporting the officer, especially citizens of downtown Hot Springs who do not want to see skaters on their sidewalks. McCormack said he hopes that the majority of people who see the video, however, will side with the skaters. He had considered posting the full 10 minutes of the skating video but has since been advised by council to stop posting and save any further evidence for court.
In reports yesterday, witness Barbara Golden supported the officers.
"The kids most definitely were out of line," she told a reporter. "They should not have been skateboarding with that many people down here."
McCormack denies he and his friends were out of line. Responding to reports that the skaters provoked Williams before the video begins, McCormack maintained the innocence of every member of his group.
"It is absolutely impossible that we bothered him," McCormack told ABC News. "We were skating single file, and the cop came out of the store and grabbed the 13-year-old. The cop said that he yelled stop, and that we were resisting arrest."
McCormack is out on bail and is awaiting his July 10 court date. The minors involved are under house arrest. As for Williams, McCormack would like to see him fired.
"I don't think he should get paid vacation for chocking a 13-year-old girl," McCormack told ABC News. "If he is back on the street, I am afraid somebody could get hurt."
'Shows It Pretty Good'
The court of public opinion, however, at least in online communities, is already making its own judgments.
"We all have the evidence firsthand on YouTube," noted one video blogger identified as Hiei2k7.
Even Michael Bush, the mayor of Hot Springs, said that the video has been powerful in proliferating the story.
"Unfortunately, the video shows it pretty good," Bush said.