Skateboarder calls reaction over the top

The Baltimore Sun

Eric Bush, the 14-year-old skateboarder who has gained national fame after his encounter with a Baltimore police officer at the Inner Harbor surfaced on YouTube, said in his home yesterday that he knew at the time that what he was doing was "100 percent wrong."

But Bush added that the officer's reaction to his simple offense of skateboarding in a prohibited area was over the top and that if he had his way, Salvatore Rivieri would be without a job.

Rivieri, a 17-year veteran, was suspended by the Police Department pending an internal investigation after berating, manhandling and threatening Bush last summer.

"I don't feel sorry for him at all," Bush said.

Bush, meanwhile, has turned into a minor celebrity as a ninth-grader at Northeast High School in Anne Arundel County, where he said he was swarmed by the curious - teachers and students alike - while he walked the halls this week.

As of last night, more than 400,000 people had watched the video on YouTube since its posting Saturday. Bush and the cameraman, Tony Santo, 15, a 10th-grader at Northeast, have taped segments for two nationally broadcast shows and are expecting other interview requests before the end of the week.

Santo said they were originally going to post the video right after the incident but decided to wait because Bush's mother filed a complaint with police. Santo misplaced the video for months but recently found it.

Bush and Santo talked about the incident for 30 minutes from Bush's home in Curtis Bay yesterday evening, both stunned by how much attention it has garnered.

The video shows Rivieri putting Bush in a headlock, pushing him to the ground and threatening to smack him for what the officer says is a lack of respect.

Bush repeatedly refers to Rivieri as "dude" or "man" in the video.

"I started calling him 'dude' because I didn't know what else to say," said Bush, who has been skateboarding for four years. "I didn't think of calling him 'sir' or anything. I didn't know he was going to do that."

Bush said run-ins with police for skateboarding are nothing new for him and his friends. Two other boys were skateboarding that day at the harbor with Bush and Santo.

Santo said he sometimes uses a camcorder to tape his friends' conflicts with police because they find humor in getting yelled at by officers. But Santo added that shortly after they are told to leave, he and his friends leave, and that they were in the process of doing so at the harbor last summer.

"I was like, I can't believe I'm getting this on film," Santo said.

Bush said he did not hear the officer's orders to stop skateboarding, which were given before the 3 1/2 -minute video starts. Bush said he was wearing headphones and missed the command.

In the video, the teen tells Rivieri that he did not hear him, prompting the officer to tell Bush not to get defensive. Rivieri then tells Bush to not give him attitude or "I'll smack you."

Near the end of the video, Rivieri takes the skateboard before discovering the camera in Santo's hand. The video cuts off as Rivieri is asking Santo whether he's recording.

Santo said he held the camera near his thigh so that Rivieri would not realize he was being taped. Santo turned it off once Rivieri recognized the equipment.

"I didn't want to tell [Rivieri] it's on. He's already pushed [Bush] down," Santo said. "I'm afraid he's going to take the camera. He knows he did something wrong. If he didn't do something wrong, he wouldn't be asking about the camera."

Bush said that Rivieri allowed him to call his mother after the camera stopped recording and that Rivieri told Bush's mother that he was being disrespectful. Bush said Rivieri returned the skateboard and left a few minutes later.

The boys said they have not returned to the harbor, a popular place for skateboarding despite the prohibition against it.

"I was pretty scared," Bush said. "I was thinking he was going to do something else, punch me in my face."

The video's popularity has generated similar complaints from other skateboarders in the city.

Jon Tarburton, a 17-year-old senior at Dundalk High School, said he was with friends at the Inner Harbor on Feb. 3 when they encountered a police officer.

Tarburton said the officer drove up in a motorized cart and began yelling at them as they sat under a pavilion with their bikes. The officer told the teenagers to run, and as Tarburton was packing up his belongings, he said, the officer pointed a Taser in his face.

"He was like a mad man. I don't even know what was wrong with the guy," Tarburton said.

He said that before he could run away, the officer kicked him in the leg, and his leg crunched against his bike rim, breaking a portion of the wheel.

When he saw the video, Tarburton said he believed he recognized Rivieri as the officer who kicked him. He said he filed a complaint with the department's Internal Investigations Division on Monday and has yet to hear back about it. A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation into Rivieri's actions said the department was looking into Tarburton's complaint.

Sterling Clifford, a Police Department spokesman, declined to comment on pending internal investigations, though he did confirm a second complaint had been filed against Rivieri since the YouTube video surfaced.

The source also said internal affairs detectives interviewed Santo, in the presence of his mother, to get additional details about what happened before and after the moments captured on video.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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