Fights break out at city carnival

Two Harford County deputies injured during melee in Havre de Grace

July 04, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

A gang-related melee erupted toward the end of a family-themed carnival in Havre de Grace on Sunday night, with at least six police agencies responding to break up fights between unruly teens.

The violence came amid an increased police presence after an incident two nights earlier at the carnival, in which a 16-year-old was cut on the back with a box-cutter or razor.

On Sunday, the final day of a weeklong carnival that featured a parade and fireworks, several scattered fights escalated and overwhelmed officers. At one point, participants in the brawl surrounded two officers and shouted and threw objects at them.

About a dozen people were arrested, mostly teenagers, and charged with disorderly conduct. Authorities determined late yesterday that several of those involved have gang affiliations or were wearing gang colors.

Officials said the violence signaled a change in the city festival, which they said has gradually attracted a different crowd over the years.

Robert B. Thomas, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said organizers must consider increased security measures next year, such as entry points where searches are conducted.

"Officials planning these events must realize this is not the Harford County of 1970s and 1980s," Thomas said. "There is a new criminal element in the county."

Havre de Grace Councilman Wayne Dougherty, who is on the events committee, said he sent an e-mail yesterday urging officials to meet and discuss the incident.

About 10 p.m., Havre de Grace police Lt. Wayne Young said he was escorting a boy who had become separated from his parents.

Young said he was taking the boy to the missing-child tent after the fireworks ended when a call came over the radio for a fight near the bumper cars.

Along with another officer, Young waded through the crowd of families and other carnivalgoers and found two males - a juvenile and a young adult - exchanging blows near the ride.

After officers broke up the fight, another began at the opposite end of the race track. More violence broke out as the officers took the four into custody and led them back through the darkened parking lot.

With 15 years of overseeing crowd control at the city carnival, Young said his experience has been that rowdy crowds would dissipate after officers intervened. This time, the crowds pushed back.

The young men who had been fighting each other became unified against the officers, surrounding them and shouting. One man attacked a police dog, Young said.

"We literally had to stand back-to-back - two of us would stay upright and stand back-to-back and literally just swing around with our arms or batons to keep a perimeter," Young said. "They were throwing bottles, dirt, rocks, anything."

Two sheriff's deputies were taken to local hospitals and treated for eye and leg injuries, Thomas said.

The decision was made to shut down the carnival early, and the officers on the scene sent out a "Signal 13," alerting neighboring jurisdictions that officers were under attack, police said.

By the time the crowd had cleared and the fighting had stopped, more than 60 officers from at least six police agencies had been dispatched to clear the carnival. Isolated fighting continued as visitors left.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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