JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several teenagers were arrested, two of them facing felony charges, and a police officer was briefly hospitalized after a brawl Thursday night at a Westside Jacksonville apartment complex that started as a fight between two groups of girls.
Witnesses said the girls hit each other and punched each other, even ripping their hair out.
Lt. Michael Eason, of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, said 50 people who became involved in the altercation about 8 p.m. at the Lenox Court Apartments were all minors.
"It started amongst the teens, the juveniles, all of them together just fighting each other," witness Samuel Williams told News4Jax. "But then, after that, it kind of settled down and the police came, and then one boy was mouthing off, I guess."
Michale Walker, a mother with two children who lives in the Lenox Court apartments, said that it was only a matter of time before something like this happened, especially after what she said she sees on a daily basis.
"They make a bunch of noise banging on things, rattling the arm rail, running up and down the stairs," Walker said. "We can't get any sleep, it's hard for me to sleep in the bedroom because of all the noise going on."
News4Jax learned that nearly 20 officers responded and several juveniles were arrested for misdemeanors. Levert Strong IV, 16, and Zion Stripling, 14, were arrested on felony charges of battery on a law enforcement officer.
Eason said the incident began when two off-duty officers working security at the complex on Lenox Avenue heard over police radio that a fight was imminent. Eason said they found two groups of teenage girls, and one girl was carrying a bat. After the bat was taken away from the girl and one person was placed in a patrol car, a group of what police described as aggressive teenage boys showed up and surrounded the officers.
"There was a whole bunch of commotion going on," Williams said. "All of the kids started jumping on the police and the other deputies came out here."
According to the arrest report, Stripling went to the patrol car and tried to open the back door of the cruiser in an apparent attempt to free the girl. When Officer M.D. Kahre approached Stripling to stop him, the 14-year-old shoved Kahre, who wrestled the teenager to the ground.
When other officers went to assist Kahre, Strong approached and tried to pull officers off Stripling, the report said. Police said Strong started shoving and swinging his elbows when officers tried to take him to the ground. At that point, another officer used a Taser gun on Strong, then handcuffed him.
Kahre's shoulder was dislocated during the struggle. He was treated and released from UF Health Jacksonville.
News4Jax caught up with Strong on Friday after he got out of jail. He politely declined to comment until he spoke with his father, who wasn't home.
Stripling's mother said the story isn't as it seems, and that News4Jax would be hearing from her attorney.
Eason said officers responding to the scene "showed a great deal of restraint" and didn't fire their guns during the brawl.
News4Jax crime analyst Gil Smith said situations like this are dicey, especially because it involves large groups of kids.
"It can be very emotional, and you just don't know how they're going to react to things," Smith said. "They could be very cooperative or they could be extremely combative. Or they are being cooperative, and they change in a heartbeat."
He said it was good that police flooded the area with officers to diffuse the situation before anyone else got hurt.
"They try to see who are the most aggressive ones; who are the educators," Smith said. "If they can remove them, they may quiet down the situation a little bit."
The melee was too close to home for some people who live in the complex. Oliver Harris said issues like this are why he's planning to leave.
"I will be moving for sure," Harris said. "I've got a kid on the way, so I don't think it's too safe (to stay), to be honest."