Deputies: Gang members caused State Fair chaos - FOX 13 News

Deputies: Gang members caused State Fair chaos

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

New video released Tuesday by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office shows the start of what would become a massive stampede of rowdy students at the Florida State Fair that led to dozens of ejections and several arrests.

The video was shot by a vendor and handed over to investigators as they try to identify victims and make more arrests in connection to the organized stampede known as "wilding."

"It's more of a giant stampede, and that's kind of the beginning of it that you see on that video," explained Col. Jim Previtera. "It does give a brief glimpse of what 'wilding' looks like."

The stampede, which investigators said involved many teenagers attending with free student tickets, led to 99 ejections and 12 arrests Friday and forced authorities to shut the fair down early.

Previtera made another revelation: Known gang members were involved in the ordeal; several of them even took pictures at a photo booth at the fair.

"Certainly the gang element adds an organized group into the mix that's there for one purpose, and that's certainly not to take advantage of the rides," he said. "They were there to cause problems."

Two undercover detectives with the sheriff's office gang unit were thrust into the middle of the chaotic scene.

"You have people coming from everywhere, 360 degrees, you never know where it's coming from and you're trying to prepare yourself for the situation that may occur, that you really don't know what's going to happen," said one of the detectives, who asked to not be identified.

"They're trampling patrons, knocking them over, using it as an opportunity to commit crimes," the other detective said, describing the actions of the gang members. "They were using it as a means to instill fear in the crowd and basically have fun at the crowd's expense."

Sheriff David Gee, meanwhile, sent a letter to leaders in the African American community, asking for their help.

"I am concerned that the overwhelming number of youth and young adults arrested or ejected from the midway for misconduct were African American," Gee wrote in the letter.

LINK: READ THE LETTER (PDF)

Copies of Gee's plea for help were sent to James Cole, president of the Sheriff's Black Advisory Council; Dr. Carolyn Collins, president of the Hillsborough NAACP; and Dr. James Favorite, pastor of Beulah Baptist Church.

FOX 13's Aaron Mesmer spoke with James Cole Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm not ready to say whether it's fair or not when the sheriff points out the specific demographic of African Americans," Cole said. "I think from the video, they try to make a call that this looked like the concentration of who we're working with. Our job is to make sure that when a group has been identified that there's still equity across the board as far as getting resources to them, making sure that we're doing what we can on the front end to prevent this from happening, and they're not just being identified for the purpose of saying, 'they're a problem.'"

The State Fair has responded by instituting new rules. Anyone gaining entry with free student tickets after 7 p.m. must now be accompanied by an adult. The Sheriff's Office will also have more deputies and equipment to help them identify and respond to potential problems.

"We want to make it absolutely clear that...we take that [safety and security] very seriously and it's something that we want all fairgoers to understand is very important to us," said Charles Pesano, executive director of the State Fair.

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