ORLANDO, Fla. - Walt Disney World ejected four of Florida State University’s top football prospects from Downtown Disney last weekend under its anti-gang, no-loitering policy.
The four, including the son of a Disney manager and the son of a Philadelphia civil-rights lawyer, were banned for life from Disney World property late Friday.
A Disney spokeswoman said the youths were expelled because they had been loitering for an extended period and refused to leave when Disney security told them to.
Parents of the youths wonder whether there’s another reason: They’re black.
“I keep thinking to myself, `This is crazy,’” said Mark Nugent, stepfather of Vincent Williams, football star at Ridge Community High School in Polk County, Fla. “Once they realized they weren’t gangbangers, why didn’t they let them go? They took their pictures. They fingerprinted them. And treated them like common criminals.”
Because of concerns about a rise in ganglike activity at Downtown Disney lately, loitering or “any other inappropriate behavior” by groups of youths is not going to be tolerated, spokeswoman Jacquee Polak said.
“This group was seen loitering for an extended period of time,” she said. “When asked, sometime after 11:30, they produced a movie ticket for a film that had already started sometime earlier. Security asked them to go to the movie or leave, and they failed to cooperate.”
Philadelphia attorney Adrian J. Moody, father of one of the players, said he thinks his son was a victim of racial profiling.
“Why else would they follow them for an hour and a half to two hours?” said Moody, whose son, Nickolas Moody, listed on the police report as Nickolas Cannon, plays safety for Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia. “And how can you trespass someone in Downtown Disney for walking around? I’ve been there before, and that’s why it’s there.”
Orange County deputy sheriffs have issued at least 48 trespass warnings at Downtown Disney during the past two weekends since the push against loitering began. Records of those cases provided to the Orlando Sentinel show that 45 of the 46 people banned from Disney for life during the past two weekends were blacks or Hispanics.
Three cases involved white teens. Of those, two were banned only from the Virgin Megastore and are free to return anytime to Disney.
Polak said the decision to expel those two guests was made by the store management, not by Disney, so the ban only applied to the store.
Records show the only white teen banned so far from Disney was accused of creating a disturbance outside the Planet Hollywood restaurant by loitering, arguing with Disney guards, swearing at them and refusing to leave the property.
The incident began after five future FSU Seminoles gathered last weekend at Williams’ Davenport home for a get-together barbecue.
Each will be a high-school senior in the fall, and all have made oral commitments to sign with Florida State. The get-together was highly publicized on an FSU fans’ Web site, Warchant.com, as a way for the recruits to form bonds they hoped would last through their college years.
“We worked out,” Nigel Carr, an outside linebacker at Jacksonville First Coast High School, told Warchant.com. “We also went to Disney, Wet `n Wild and CityWalk. It was just really fun.”
In addition to Williams, Moody and Carr, Avis Commack also was issued a trespass warning, according to the Sheriff’s Office and interviews. All are 17.
Ranked as one of the top 10 high-school wide receivers in the nation, Commack attends First Coast High School.
The fifth player, Moses McCray, 17, of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, said he left before Disney issued the trespass warnings and was not banned.
After dinner Friday, Williams’ mother and stepfather drove the five teens to Downtown Disney so they could look around and enjoy the evening. Williams’ mother is a supervisor at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort.
The parents’ cell phone rang about midnight. It was Vincent, upset and asking them to come as soon as possible to take him and his friends home.
“They’re harassing us. They’re being nasty to us,” Nugent remembered his stepson saying about being approached by more than a dozen Disney security guards and Orange County deputies.
According to sheriff’s Cmdr. Larry Krantz, who supervised the off-duty deputies working at Downtown Disney last weekend, Disney security officers said they spoke to the football players several times during the evening.
At one point, the teens tried to enter the Pleasure Island complex of nightclubs after 11 p.m. when entry switches to those 21 and older. They declined to go to the movies as suggested and said they were at Downtown Disney to pick up girls, Krantz said he was told.
From his own observations, he said, the athletes were not aggressive or rude, but he understood that at least one made “kind of smart remarks” to Disney security.
At one point, they asked why no Puerto Rican or white teens were being asked to leave, Krantz said. Then, a white teen and a Hispanic teen were brought in, and all the teens started slapping “high-fives” and joking, he said.
McCray, a 6-foot-2-inch, 268-pound defensive tackle, said the group had been sitting on a bench after leaving Pleasure Island when a number of security guards and deputies approached them. That’s when he left, he said.
Commack said he and his friends were “just chilling together” at Downtown Disney and that they thought they were followed “because we were a group of black kids they assumed were out to make trouble.”
Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Mark Strobridge said Tuesday evening that the agency works closely with Walt Disney security to identify and remove anyone causing problems at the theme parks and Downtown Disney.
“The feedback we have received is that many of the guests have been happy with our presence,” Strobridge said.
Nugent, Vincent Williams’ stepfather, defended the players by saying they are all good kids as well as hardworking, outstanding athletes.
“Is it because they’re all over 6 feet tall and black?” asked Nugent, who is white. “I want the trespass warnings dropped so the kids can visit Disney if they want. And an apology would be nice.”
(Orlando Sentinel correspondent Mike Huguenin contributed to this report.)