ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said Monday it won’t let a string of recent fights involving young people at the Orange Park Mall define the community it is tasked with protecting.
The Sheriff’s Office issued its first statement to News4JAX after deputies were forced to shut down the mall on Saturday due to “juvenile disturbances,” something that has reignited concerns over safety in the shopping center that has been a county landmark since 1975.
“Unfortunately, a large group of young people took advantage of what should’ve been a family-friendly movie theater initiative at the AMC. Upon notification of the large crowd causing issues, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office immediately sent additional resources to the mall to assist with dispersing the crowd,” Public Information Deputy Andrew Ford said in a statement. “We are committed to keeping Clay County safe, and we will not allow incidents like this to define who we are as a community.”
There was a similar issue in December when a fight inside the mall was confused for a possible active shooter situation. In August 2021, fights broke out at a mall carnival, causing similar chaos.
County leaders have pushed to improve the Blanding Boulevard and Wells Road corridors near the mall through what is called the “Gateway to Clay Initiative” by applying for grants to help improve security in the area.
That has hit roadblocks with drug issues on Wells Road and homeless issues on Blanding Boulevard, some of which have been improved with things like the clearing of a homeless camp near the mall that was dismantled in January.
But workers at a nearby Papa Johns told News4JAX that they’re not sure it solved anything.
“It’s worse because they don’t have anywhere to stay now. That used to be where all of them stayed. Now they’re just kind of all out, more so than usual,” said Jaye Agosto, who works near the mall. “They sleep there a lot. I have to be careful where I park, not to run them over.”
But the Sheriff’s Office told the initiative has led to positive change.
“The Clay County Sheriff’s Office continues to partner with the county and local businesses in the Gateway to Clay initiative. Since its inception, we have seen a decrease in overall crime in the area,” Ford said.
In fact, the Clay County Chamber of Commerce recently installed a new president — this year, it’s the general manager of the Orange Park Mall.
News4JAX received the following statement from Orange Park Mall ownership after reaching out for more information on Sunday: “The safety of our guests, retailers and employees is our top priority.”
It’s unclear if there were any injuries or arrests related to Saturday’s incident.