When skateboarder William Faulhaber was dropped off by his father at the new city skate park on Friday, November 18th, he assumed he'd be leaving a couple of hours later when his dad came back to pick him up. Instead, the 12-year-old left in handcuffs. His offense? Not wearing a helmet.
Just a few minutes after William's father Hans dropped his son off, Memphis Police officer Otto Kiehl arrived at the park and handcuffed William for not wearing a helmet. In a video of the arrest, taken by an unknown bystander, Kiehl is shown walking William to his squad car in cuffs, as he says, "I will be arresting every time I come by. I will be arresting somebody, whoever is not wearing a helmet."
Several onlookers protest the arrest, yelling "There's n*** getting raped and stabbed, and you want to arrest little kids" and "You need to be fired!"
Although the officer said he'd be "arresting," William was not taken to jail. The officer put him in a squad car and drove him home, but he was given a juvenile summons and must appear in court for criminal trespassing.
According to the summons, Kiehl says he made an announcement on his PA system advising "that it is illegal to use this facility without a helmet." It doesn't say what time that announcement was made, but Kiehl does state that he came back fifteen minutes later and made another announcement, and nearly all skaters not wearing helmets had stopped skating, except for William.
However, William's father said his son never heard an announcement. He believes William may have been dropped off after the first warning was made.
"It didn't occur to me until later that William couldn't have been there for the warning," Hans said. "He didn't know anything about that."
There are several rules posted outside the skate park, and one of those does suggest skaters wear helmets, but currently there is no law against not wearing a helmet. The Memphis City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposed city ordinance mandating that skaters and cyclists wear helmets, but once passed, violators will face a $50 fine. The ordinance language does not state anything about arresting violators.
Kiehl drove William to his father's house and explained to Hans why his son was taken out of the park in cuffs. Because there's no law against not wearing a helmet, William was charged with criminal trespassing.
"I wasn't really that upset about it until the officer said he was going to write a summons. That means I have to appear in juvenile court. It also means I have to engage the services of an attorney, which I've already done," Hans said.
"The cop keeps telling me it's not going to matter. It's not going on his record. He said he was more or less being arrested to be made an example of. But it is a big deal, and it became a bigger deal when I saw the video," Hans said. "When my son showed up on my doorstep, he was standing beside the cop. But [on the video], when my son was put into the squad car, he was handcuffed."
William didn't have a helmet with him because he'd forgotten it at home, Hans said. And although his father agrees with the park's helmet rule, he thinks the officer went too far.
"I don't disagree that helmets should be worn. Helmets are a good thing. They protect you from skull fractures. But I disagree with the way this went down," Hans said. "I'm sure the cop carries a cell phone. Why didn't he just call me and have me come to the park?"
Cindy Buchanan, director of Parks Services, couldn't comment on this situation without input from the Memphis Police Department, and they were unavailable at press time. But Buchanan did confirm that the Memphis Police are charged with enforcing the rules in city parks, and she said the helmet rule is among the most important at the park.
"We're very excited to have a skate park, but we also know that you have to take safety precautions because skateboarding is not a risk-free sport. People are always trying new things and taking risks," Buchanan said. "We just want [skaters] to have fun and be as safe as they possibly can."
Read more on this story in next week's print edition of the Memphis Flyer.