A peaceful Saturday-afternoon block party in Spring Hill turned into a confrontation between law enforcement and citizens the night of May 16, resulting in at least seven arrests, one man being Tasered, and one deputy injured.
Chaos ensued after the organized event on West Lisbon Parkway ended around 10 p.m., and a planned afterparty involving large groups of people moved from one location to another in Southwest DeLand.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office had been on the scene of the block party for traffic control, a VCSO spokesman said. The party was held in memory of Kenya Alexander, a DeLand man who was murdered in 2008.
“This is what they do to black people,” one party participant said. “Have a block party Downtown and see what happens. … It’s not fair; it’s not fair.”
Although the current governor’s order advises against large gatherings of people, because of concern about community spread of COVID-19, no law currently prohibits large gatherings.
By around 10:30 p.m., Spring Hill Park, where some afterparty participants had planned to gather, was closed off with police tape.
At the same time, more than half-a-dozen law-enforcement vehicles, lights flashing and sirens sounding, blocked the nearby intersection of Adele and Beresford avenues.
A confrontation developed at the C-Store nearby at 445 W. Beresford Ave., where officers for an unknown reason tried to close the store, sparking sharp protests from customers gathered outside.
DeLand Police Department officers and deputies with the Sheriff’s Office stood shoulder-to-shoulder, preventing people from entering.
“They gave us no reason why they were shutting us down,” store owner Vadricka Gordon later told The Beacon. “We don’t have anything to do with anything out there, we’re just trying to run our business.”
Gordon said officers entered the store, cleared out all the customers and ordered the store to close. According to Gordon, the police gave no reason for the closure. The Beacon emailed an inquiry Sunday morning to the DeLand Police Department asking why officers tried to close the C-Store.
In a video posted to Facebook, officers are seen pushing back people who are attempting to come into the store to make purchases. As the owner protests, an officer tells one person, “They are closed. If you interfere with me again, you are going to jail.”
“Marlon Brown. That’s all I am going to say,” the man replies, referring to a black DeLand man run over and killed by DeLand police officers in 2013, after police attempted to stop him for not wearing a seatbelt.
From the open door of the store, over the shoulders of officers, the owner's husband sold goods like orange soda and Doritos, as officers continued to prevent people from entering.
Officers stood stoically just outside the store doors, and after about 20 minutes, left without explanation. Their departure is shown in a video posted to social media.
Roughly an hour later, about two blocks away in the 1200 block of South Delaware Avenue, officers attempted to shut down another gathering.
The Sheriff’s Office estimated there were some 1,500 people at that location. Officers again attempted to disperse vehicles.
According to the Sheriff’s Office spokesman, at one point, an officer investigating a parking violation saw two men in the crowd exchanging a gun. The man in possession of the firearm attempted to flee, but was caught.
“Several other deputies responded to help with the subject on the ground, who was resisting. He was Tasered and ultimately taken into custody on several charges, as was the other man involved in the gun exchange,” VCSO spokesman Andrew Gant said.
Gant said officers recovered a Ruger 9mm gun loaded with 15 rounds, with one round in the chamber and the hammer cocked, which was thrown to the ground as he fled by the man who was Tasered.
After that exchange, the crowd turned aggressive, Gant said. The Sheriff’s Office called for backup from other local law-enforcement agencies.
Eyewitness reports and video posted to Facebook indicate people in the crowd believed the man had been Tasered and punched in the face after already being tackled to the ground, and the mood of the already-aggrieved crowd escalated.
“After securing the two subjects ... two deputies were hit with a cup of alcohol,” Gant said. “While the person who threw it was being taken into custody, one of the deputies was sucker-punched by another male subject who immediately fled the area.”
According to the Sheriff's Office, some in the crowd threw other items at officers, including a mason jar, and glass bottles were thrown at law-enforcement vehicles. One officer was hit with a bar stool, Gant said.
Gant said the injured deputy hurt his knee.
Three suspects were charged with possession of a firearm, and two of them were also charged with inciting a riot, in addition to other charges.
“Overall, deputies conducted 12 traffic stops, issued five citations, towed five vehicles, made seven arrests, recovered two firearms, some narcotics and $3,840 in cash,” Gant said.
Citizens in the crowd expressed frustration at the law-enforcement action, especially since, according to multiple witnesses, there had been no fight or other trouble before officers attempted to break up the gathering.
“Can we enjoy ourselves? No,” one woman said, adding, “We are human too — black lives matter. Every life matters.”
She asked, “Why do they try to take our humanity? Our pride? It’s not fair to us — we’re all human. We all bleed the same blood. When he made us, he made y’all.”
Gant said it was the need to protect pedestrians, in light of the heavy traffic, that prompted the actions of officers on the scene. Gant said he had seen estimates as large as 3,000 people involved.
“With so many people congregating, obstructing the flow of traffic and causing safety hazards, certain streets were shut down, and traffic was diverted to avoid any potential traffic crashes involving pedestrians,” Gant said in an email.
According to social-media posts, the day had started with a peaceful memorial event.
In Facebook posts before the event, members of Alexander’s family and the block party organizer mentioned that the police would be on scene for crowd control, and told potential attendees to avoid any “drama.” Later, the party organizer praised attendees for being respectful and not causing trouble while still turning out in large numbers.
According to eyewitness reports and Gant, officers followed the afterparty from location to location.
A large crowd first congregated at the Rite Track gas station at Beresford and Spring Garden Avenues.
Because the crowd caused road obstructions, DPD and VCSO ordered vehicles out of the area. Gant said the crowd then moved to the RaceTrac gas station at 2080 S. Woodland Blvd., then to a parking lot at 2490 S. Woodland Blvd., and finally to the 1200 block of South Delaware Avenue.
Read our follow-up story HERE.
Samuel Zow, 34, of DeLand, driving with a suspended license
Tony Cranican, 28, of DeLand, no endorsement on his driver license for motorcycle operation
Jennifer Balsley, 43, of DeLand, two counts of possession of a Schedule IV substance
Reginald Charles, 46, of DeLand, unregistered motor vehicle and no insurance
Charles Turner, 37, of Daytona Beach, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, tampering with evidence, inciting a riot and resisting arrest without violence
Alphonso Parker, 27, of DeLand, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, inciting a riot and resisting arrest without violence
Kevis Murphy, 25, of DeLand, two counts of battery on a law-enforcement officer, carrying concealed firearm and resisting arrest with violence