3,000 People Gather for Florida Block Party Without Masks Despite Restrictions, Get Into Fight With Police

Law enforcement officials were struck with glass bottles, jars and bar stools at a Saturday block party in DeLand, Florida, that drew an estimated 3,000 people, according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.

The party began as a "relatively uneventful" event during the day but quickly escalated as the crowd turned dangerous. Police became involved after a rifle was seen pointed out of the open window of a passing vehicle at crowds gathered at a gas station. Deputies began ordering vehicles to move as crowds grew in multiple areas, including a gathering of about 1,500 pedestrians.

Florida's Department of Health has advised against gatherings of more than 250 people to lower the risk of coronavirus transmission during the pandemic. Attendees were seen standing close together with no face masks.

LeLand Block Party Crowd
A crowd gathers for a block party in DeLand, Florida, on May 16. Volusia's Sheriff's Office

Later, two men, Alphonso Parker and Charles Turner, were seen exchanging a firearm and were taken into custody after resisting officers. Turner, who had been out on bond on other charges, was charged with two counts of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, tampering with evidence, inciting a riot and resisting an officer without violence.

Parker was arrested on the same charges, with the exception of tampering with evidence. He was also charged with possession of a concealed firearm.

Shortly afterward, deputies began being pelted with a number of objects, including cups of alcohol, a bar stool and glass bottles. Another officer was punched by a member of the crowd. Seven arrests were made, and two officers suffered minor injuries.

One man who attended the block party was later admitted to hospital with a gunshot wound to the foot but did not press charges.

The gathering was reported to be a memorial for Kenya Alexander, a DeLand man who was murdered in 2008. Several partygoers who spoke with The West Volusia Beacon said black attendees had been unfairly targeted by law enforcement officials.

In a statement released alongside body camera footage from May 16, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the police action taken that night was not in response to race but instead was for public safety.

DeLand block party 5/17/20

Where else in Volusia County does a mob of thousands of people pack the streets? Where else are people throwing glass bottles at law enforcement and sucker punching deputies? How are we supposed to turn a blind eye to someone pointing a gun at a crowd, or two convicted felons exchanging a loaded gun right in front of our face? Our response to last night's events in DeLand was not about race. It's about public safety, and I can't believe the slant I'm reading today in The West Volusia Beacon. -Sheriff Chitwood*WARNING: Strong language and intense footage*Starting Saturday afternoon and into early Sunday, an estimated 3,000 people gathered across DeLand for a party or parties that spanned several locations. While the daytime was relatively uneventful, things started getting out of hand as day turned to night.Volusia Sheriff’s Office deputies working alongside DeLand PD encountered several issues: A long gun pointed out of the passenger window of a passing vehicle, a loaded gun handed off from one convicted felon to another, agitated crowds of bystanders and bottles, jars and bar stools used against law enforcement as weapons or projectiles.Many in the crowd recorded video of their perspective of events.Today, in a story headlined "Police, citizens clash after peaceful DeLand memorial block party," The West Volusia Beacon published quotes from some members of the crowd:“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.”“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 us, he made y’all.”*** Sheriff Mike Chitwood responded today by releasing video footage of the events and defending the deputies and police officers who were surrounded by agitated crowds and hit by glass bottles and other objects.Around 10:30 p.m., a passenger in a vehicle pointed a rifle or shotgun out of an open window, in the direction of a deputy and pedestrians gathered at a gas station at Beresford and Spring Garden avenues. The vehicle continued northbound on Spring Garden at a high rate of speed. Deputies and police searched for the vehicle with negative results.As crowds grew in multiple locations, impeding traffic flow and causing safety hazards, deputies and DeLand police officers began ordering vehicles out of certain areas. As crowds dissipated in one location, new problem areas would arise.One of those areas was the 1200 block of South Delaware Avenue, where a crowd of about 1,500 pedestrians and vehicles formed on the street. Shortly after midnight, deputies were walking southbound on Delaware and observed two men (Alphonso Parker and Charles Turner) exchanging a firearm. A deputy approached giving commands to drop the gun, and Turner ran away. The deputy ran after him; Turner threw the gun and kept running, but he was taken to the ground nearby.Deputies recovered the firearm (Ruger 9mm, 15 rounds with one round in the chamber and the hammer cocked). Several other deputies responded to help secure Turner, who was resisting. He was charged with two counts of possession of a weapon/ammunition by a convicted felon, tampering with evidence, inciting a riot and resisting an officer without violence.Turner, who was already out on bond on other charges, has a criminal history that includes 25 felony charges with 5 convictions and 28 misdemeanor charges with 13 convictions.Parker was arrested on many of the same charges as Turner, with the exception of tampering with evidence. He was also charged with possession of a concealed firearm.After securing Turner and Parker, two deputies were hit with a cup of alcohol. 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. Another deputy and DeLand PD officer were hit with a bar stool and mason jar by other members of the crowd who immediately fled. Glass bottles were also being thrown at patrol vehicles in the street while arrests were being made.One deputy sustained a minor knee injury and a DeLand PD officer had a minor head injury when he was hit with the jar.The behavior that occurred here overnight was dangerous, senseless, unacceptable and an embarrassment to our community.None of it will deter law enforcement from coming back when we’re needed.

Posted by Mike Chitwood on Sunday, May 17, 2020

"Because the majority of the crowd were black & the deputies/police were white, we have to face the issues. I don't accept the accusations that we're racists, or that our actions Saturday were racially motivated. It's not true, and it's not a fair conclusion from the video," Chitwood said on Twitter.

"But given everything we know about our nation's history, I also know those feelings aren't just about Saturday night. That's why I'm asking everyone to hit pause and take a second to cool off, myself included," the sheriff said.