The debate began Monday over how to handle unruly crowds that turned downtown Augusta into a free-for-all after First Friday festivities.
Fixing the problem will take more than an increase in officers, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said. In a morning meeting with Mayor Bob Young, City Attorney Jim Wall and City Administrator George Kolb, the sheriff discussed curfews, new city ordinances and pepper spray canisters designed to clear street corners.
"We are going to make some decisions. Everyone won't be happy about those decisions, but we are not going to let one group of people ruin this community," Sheriff Strength said at a 2 p.m. news conference.
The festival, which officially ended at 10 p.m. Friday, ran without a hitch and should not be associated with the rowdiness that began two hours later, the sheriff said. He said he worries that the fighting and vandalism may jeopardize it.
"(They were) going up and down the street, causing disturbances, causing fights, throwing beer bottles, becoming intoxicated. These were the troublemakers," he said. "The law-abiding citizens had gone home when all of this happened."
Downtown merchants and First Friday organizers plan to meet this afternoon at the Ramada Plaza Hotel to discuss options. The mayor and Sheriff Strength are expected to attend.
"Everything is on the table," Mr. Young said.
On Monday, Sheriff Strength said 19 people were arrested in the hours after the festival, including 11 who were underage. Most were charged with disorderly conduct, and most are from the Augusta area.
In many cases, large crowds that had gathered on the sidewalk simply refused to budge, even after deputies ordered them to disperse. The crowds were not there for the festival and were not patronizing bars, Sheriff Strength said.
"These people are getting alcohol out of the trunks of their cars. They bring their own alcohol," he said. "Nothing good happens at 2 or 3 in the morning with large crowds drinking alcohol."
Mr. Young said Augusta will turn to other cities to find ways to handle unruly crowds.
"We've worked too hard to bring Broad Street back ... to allow a bunch of thugs to come in here in the middle of the night and do all that," he said. "We're not at war, but you bet we're going to be."
HANDLING THE HOOLIGANS
Law enforcement and city officials are debating several options for handling unruly crowds:
CURFEW: Write a no-loitering ordinance for late hours
MORE OFFICERS: Increase the number of deputies and request help from other agencies
FOGGERS: Use large cannisters of pepper spray designed to disperse crowds from entire street blocks
BROAD STREET JAIL: Rent a vacant downtown building to house suspects until officers can transport them to jail
STREET BLOCKS: Reroute traffic to give officers more control of the scene
AFTER-HOURS BEER BAN: Write an ordinance banning public consumption after 10 p.m.
FIRST SATURDAY: Move festivities to Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength said 19 people were arrested in downtown Augusta after First Friday festivities had ended. All but two arrests occurred between 1 and 3 a.m. on Broad Street.
Thirteen people were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct:
- Gregory Leonard Abraham, 19, Blount Avenue, Augusta
- Robert Lorenzo Aroujo, 17, Halifax Drive, Augusta
- Leon Brinson, 23, Forsythe Street, Augusta
- Reginald Emmitt Blount, 17, Empress Avenue, Augusta
- Bill Michael Brooks, 19, Rock Spring Drive, Augusta
- Allen Onieses Cook, 18, Ellis Street, Augusta
- Mitchicano C. Carmichael, 17, Hicks Street, Augusta
- Richmond Lee Dunn Jr., 18, Fenwick Street, Augusta
- Christopher Alexander Dais, 21, Casalinda Drive, North Augusta
- Darvell Bernard Hicks, 22, Carolyn Circle, North Augusta.
- Grady Lee Rhodes, 23, Beaufort Avenue, Augusta
- John R. Slaughter III, 31, Broad Street, Augusta
- Thomas Tremayne Vandiver, 20, Crest Drive, Hephzibah
Six others were charged with various offenses:
- Khadafy Hobbs, 19, Bennock Mill Road, Hephzibah; felony possession of cocaine
- Charles Centrell Hines, 23, Fort Gordon; disorderly conduct, noise violation, no proof of insurance and expired tag
- Shawn Patrick Southworth, 29, West Woodlawn Avenue, North Augusta; public drunkenness
- Jonas Gordon Powers, 17, North Bell Street, Harlem; minor in possession of alcohol
- Orlando Harris, 18, Halifax Drive, Augusta; felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer
- David Michael Church, 22, Greene Street, Augusta; drunken driving and improper movement on roadway