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Police: BayWalk brawl was a chain reaction

A police report released Wednesday provided new details about Friday night's brawl at BayWalk, describing a chain reaction of fights that took officers more than two hours to control.

The report said about 1,500 young people between the ages of 11 and 25 were hanging out in the courtyard entertainment complex at 10:30 p.m.

Police were able to quickly control the first fight, involving two 13-year-old girls. But the situation quickly escalated.

A second fight broke out, then a third.

"Soon there were groups of people engaging in fights in the courtyard area, as well as the surrounding sidewalks and streets around the BayWalk complex," according to the report, written by Sgt. S. Carron.

As the crowd began to spill into Second Avenue N, Lt. Donnie Williams radioed dispatchers and told them to send all available units to BayWalk. Soon 69 officers were at the scene and a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office helicopter was buzzing overhead.

Officers gathered shoulder-to-shoulder and walked in a straight line to clear the courtyard. Some patrons at Wet Willie's, a second-floor bar, grew unruly and began throwing cups and drinks, the report said.

Officers closed Second Avenue N from First Street N to Second Street N. Youths were seen fighting in Sunshine Alley and the streets surrounding BayWalk.

By the time order was restored, seven adults and seven juveniles had been arrested.

Accounts of the number of officers have varied. First, it was reported as more than 60. Then, at a press conference Monday, police said 41 officers were there. In the report, it was listed as 69.

Spokesman Bill Doniel said 41 officers had been called in as backup, but 28 already were at or near the complex, for a total of 69.

Doniel said that left 45 officers to patrol the rest of the city.

About 16 emergency 911 calls, unrelated to BayWalk, were called in from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., the time that officers were dealing with BayWalk.

Maj. Tim Story said the number of officers was never a concern.

"We had adequate staffing that night to handle the situation without any problems," he said.

Craig Sher, president and CEO of the Sembler Company, which owns BayWalk, said he plans to beef up security Friday. City officials also have agreed to hold a series of community meetings to discuss the increased youth presence downtown.

But Story said he doesn't plan to change the way downtown is patroled on Friday nights.

"As far as drastically changing the way we go about this, we're not going to do that," he said.

City Council member Virginia Littrell, who received a copy of the report Wednesday, said the incident has been a learning experience for police, city officials and BayWalk representatives.

Littrell urged parents to stop dropping off their children at the complex and leaving them unsupervised for hours.

"Parents still have to be more responsible," she said. "That's the bottom line."

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