Police in Miami Beach kicked off what was expected to be a busy spring break weekend by shooting pepper balls in order to disperse a crowd that had gathered around officers who were making an arrest.
The Miami Beach Police Department tweeted Friday night that two officers were injured and had to be taken to a hospital. They were released early Saturday but remained off-duty because of their injuries, the police department said in an emailed statement.
“That presented a very dangerous situation for our officers,” said Ernesto Rodriguez, public information officer for the Miami Beach Police Department. “Our officers had to go into a crowd and attempt to arrest an individual. The crowd ended up turning on those officers.”
James Harrison, 19, of Brooklyn, was arrested on charges of battery on a police officer, resisting an officer with violence, inciting a riot and disorderly conduct. Harrison shouted obscenities at police officers when they tried to break up a crowd of more than 200 people that was blocking traffic, smoking cannabis and carrying around open containers, according to a police report released Saturday.
Harrison then pushed an officer and the crowd surrounded officers who were outnumbered at the intersection in the heart of Miami Beach's famous nightclub and restaurant district, the police report said.
Two officers fired pepper balls “due to the large, aggressive, unruly crowd and the immediate posing threats to officer safety," the police report said.
An officer body-slammed Harrison after Harrison grabbed the front collar of the officer's police vest collar as the officer was trying to place the suspect in handcuffs, authorities said. The move was an attempt to release Harrison's grip, the report said.
Once on the ground, Harrison started kicking and bracing his body to avoid being put in handcuffs, and an officer hit Harrison in the chest while another officer kneed him in the shoulder, the report said.
“It should be noted that defendant Harrison's actions made the crowd extremely aggressive towards officers, posing a clear threat to their safety, due to the large number of unruly subjects present," the police report said.
Harrison was taken to jail. It couldn't be determined through online court records Saturday if Harrison had an attorney.
South Beach resident Kevin Green told the Miami Herald that said the confrontation began after a large crowd of at least 200 people gathered at an intersection to party.
“People were just having fun in that general area,” Green said. “It looked like people were doing Snapchat videos.”
Green said he then heard the pops of pepper balls being fired. He took cover behind a police vehicle as the crowd scattered.
“I heard a pop,” Green said. “A bunch of people started running.”
The number of arrests during spring break has more than doubled compared to last year, Miami Beach police said.
From Feb. 3 to March 7, there have been 731 arrests, 263 of which were for felonies, police said. Over the same period last year, there were only 332 arrests, about half of which were felonies.
Additionally, police made about 119 arrests and seized 13 guns over the past five days. One of those arrests was of 55-year-old Kenneth Adams, who is accused of beating a man with a stick. He was charged with battery on a person older than 65.
“The message is clear,” Rodriguez said. “Vacation responsibly or you will be arrested. It’s not a message intended to threaten anyone. It’s a message intended to be very clear.”
Extra officers from different police departments are patrolling South Beach and other tourist-heavy areas.
“What we will be able to do is be there,” Rodriguez said. “Be there at the moment and reduce the amount of violence. Reduce the amount of incidents that actually occur.”
Police say they’re also cracking down on smaller crimes, which is why arrest numbers are up.