Security heightened for Jacksonville Fair's final weekend

Organizers take measures to keep fairgoers safe after several fights break out

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Organizers have increased security for the final weekend of the annual Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair in an effort to keep fairgoers safe and keep violence out.

Several fights have broken out since the fair opened Nov. 2 and at least one resulted in an arrest. But officials want to reassure families that adequate safety measures are in place. 

There will be a large, visible law enforcement presence this weekend at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds downtown to keep an eye for any potential trouble, in addition to everyone having to go through a metal detector at the entrance, said Gayle Hart, vice president of marketing for the fair.

"We take it very seriously. We take all kinds of safety seriously, whether it be personal safety, whether it be ride safety, whether it be food safety. It's a very serious business for us," Hart said. "We are doing our part to make sure that we have a presence that is obvious, and not only in the fairgrounds, but also on the streets."

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Hart said last Saturday's crowd was the biggest they had ever seen and high attendance numbers are expected this weekend as well. 

Crowds were already growing at the fair early Friday evening. But some fairgoers expressed concerns about fights that have broken out. 

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, an 18-year-old was arrested on a child abuse charge after he was seen sucker-punching a teenage girl outside the fair. That charge was later dropped.

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A high school student also told News4Jax Friday that he and his cousin were involved in a fight that started when a group of teenagers jumped him at the fair earlier this week.

"They jumped on me and they put a knee in my neck and they were all on my back and it was giving me pain," he said. "So I walked off and they threw my phone at me." 

The student, who wished to remain anonymous, said cellphone video captured the moments when his other cousin jumped in to help and then police officers got involved.

"They fractured my arm. They had handcuffs on me and they twisted my arm while I had handcuffs on," he said. "Last year, it was nothing like that. Like, if you fight, they'll try to break it up and kick you out. But what they did, it wasn't right. All that wasn't necessary."

Hart said these are isolated incidents that she believes had to do with other events going on outside the fair.

She added that organizers are taking every possible precaution to keep fairgoers safe, saying they have no tolerance for violence.