Juveniles arrested in new mall brawl, GPD to enhance patrols

— Screenshot from a video posted to Facebook by Devin VanBrunt

A participant in a Jan. 26 mall brawl at Crossgates in Guilderland runs from the scene as a mall security guard faces the confrontation from a distance. 

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Police and Crossgates Mall will officially announce enhanced patrols within the mall in a few days, said Guilderland’s deputy chief, Curtis Cox, on Monday, the day after a fight by a group of young people led to two separate police chases, one ending in a crash.

The latest Crossgates brawl broke out Sunday night near closing time outside lululemon athletica, Cox said; that store is on the second floor near J.C. Penney and Forever 21, Cox said. Crossgates has seen at least three brawls in the last month; two of them garnered widespread attention — on Christmas Eve and last Sunday — because of videos posted on social media.

Witnesses to the other, a Jan. 11 brawl at the Burlington Coat Factory, described to The Enterprise hiding in a storage closet for a quarter of an hour, crouched in fear with other shoppers, as the brawlers rampaged through the store and a bystander was carried off on a stretcher.

Last Sunday’s mall brawl, a video of which was posted to Facebook by Devin VanBrunt, shows a group of young people throwing punches and picking up large free-standing metal signs and throwing them at one another while a security guard, standing a short distance away, yells and points. Police have said one of the brawlers suffered a knife wound.

 

 

Guilderland Police were called to the mall at about 6 p.m. but the people involved in the fight had already dispersed, according to Cox. The mall closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays. 

Trooper Kerra M. Burns, spokeswoman for Troop G of the New York State Police, said that officers from that agency located the vehicles — both U-Haul vehicles — believed to be connected to the incident soon after they had left the mall and tried to initiate traffic stops, but the drivers of both vehicles sped off. 

One of the vehicles, a U-Haul box truck, was eventually stopped in the area of Exit 24 on the New York State Thruway, according to Burns. The three juveniles inside that vehicle were taken into custody, interviewed by police, and released, she said. The State Police are currently investigating whether the U-Haul box truck was stolen, she said. 

The other vehicle, a van that had been reported stolen by U-Haul, crashed outside of St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, Burns said. She did not know exactly where it stopped, but a photo posted by CBS 6 News shows a U-Haul vehicle having crashed right next to a Capital District Transportation Authority bus-stop shelter. 

Six juveniles were inside the van — no other vehicles were involved in the crash — and were taken into custody and transported to Albany Medical Center with minor injuries, Burns said. 

One of the six in the crashed U-Haul van was treated for a non-life-threatening stab wound that State Police believe was sustained at the mall, Burns said, adding that that person was treated and released. 

All six juveniles in the crashed van were charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, a felony, said Burns, adding that the van was the stolen property. One of the six was additionally charged with resisting arrest and second-degree obstruction of governmental administration, both misdemeanors. All six juveniles were issued appearance tickets for Albany County Family Court and released to guardians, she said.  

Portions of the chase involving the van that crashed near St. Peter’s Hospital took place along Western Avenue, Burns said. She did not know the route the vehicle and the State Police took, she said, and she did not know how fast they were traveling. 

A total of nine juveniles ranging in age from 14 to 17 were questioned by State Police, Burns said. The agency’s policy with juveniles is to give age but no other identifying information, she said, including gender. She did not know how many people were involved in the original incident at the mall. 

The reason that the juveniles in the vehicle stopped near Exit 24 were not arrested is because State Police “have not established yet that the other vehicle was stolen,” Burn said; the investigation is ongoing. 

She had no information on what led to the fight at the mall, Burns said. 

Cox said, “It appears that they knew each other,” referring to the young people who were fighting at the mall. 

Crossgates was the scene of a brawl a month ago, on Christmas Eve, also near closing time. That fight was also caught on video; it was posted on Twitter by @GlockRivers and has been viewed 3.2 million times. That brawl moved from the mall hallway into the Beef Jerky outlet and involved a lot of merchandise being knocked off tables and walls in the melee. 

Guilderland Police responded to Get Air Trampoline Park in August 2019 close to 11 p.m. for a report of females fighting, and multiple police agencies were called in to assist. A release from the Guilderland Police at the time said that two of its officers were “assaulted by multiple subjects,” and two juvenile males were arrested on assault and other lesser charges at the venue, where 400 to 500 people had gathered.

In November 2016, a gun was fired in Crossgates Mall, causing panicked shoppers to flee and resulting in a lockdown while police searched the premises. One young man was acquitted of several charges including possessing a firearm, in the incident, but convicted of reckless endangerment. The prosecution in the case said the shooting was gang-related.

Burlington brawl 

Lori Storrow of Voorheesville told The Enterprise the recent incident and the one at the Beef Jerky outlet on Christmas Eve are not the only large-scale fights that occurred at Crossgates over the past month. 

Storrow said she and her mother, Linda Carlo, were shopping in Burlington Coat Factory on Jan. 11 at about 7:45 p.m. when a brawl erupted at the mall entrance to the store and then moved inside and throughout the store. Storrow and Carlo hid in a storage closet with other shoppers where Carlo, who is 73 and has asthma, suffered a panic attack. 

Carlo, who lives in Utica, told The Enterprise she and Storrow had been shopping in different parts of the store when she heard screaming and banging and saw “eight or 10 people at least” throwing things like clothing racks and then running through the store looking for other things to throw. 

Carlo said she didn’t know “if they had guns or what.”

“I can’t tell you how scary it was,” Carlo said, recounting that she couldn’t catch her breath as she called her daughter’s name, walking through the store, ducking behind displays, trying to find her amid the chaos. 

When she did find Storrow, one of the perpetrators was just a few feet from her daughter, Carlo said; he was picking up and brandishing a stroller that had been on display and yelling at someone else, “You want this? I’ll give you this.” 

Together, the two women headed to the back of the store, where Storrow tried the door of a storage closet and found it unlocked. Her daughter called out to other women nearby, Carlo said, including an older woman and another woman with a baby, asking if they wanted to go in the closet with them. 

About six people hid in the closet for what Carlo estimated to be about 15 minutes, with the door locked behind them. Carlo sat inside the closet, she said, hyperventilating. “The other people in there were looking at me and saying, ‘Are you all right?’, and I couldn’t say anything,” she recalled. 

Every so often, Storrow said, she would peek out, take a few steps into the store, and then go back inside until things grew very quiet, and they all decided to go out. 

A little while later, as they were leaving, they saw an older woman being wheeled out on a gurney to an ambulance, both women said, noting that she was clearly a bystander and not a participant.

Deputy Chief Cox, who had not mentioned the incident in recent interviews about other Crossgates brawls, said on Tuesday that he had located documentation on the Jan. 11 incident. He said on Wednesday, “Six to seven males were fighting but had dispersed prior to our arrival and no one was arrested.” 

Cox also said no victims had reported the incident to police. Storrow confirmed that the women hiding in the closet had not called 9-1-1. “It is likely they didn’t know we were there,” Storrow said of police. “No one was around when we exited the storage room.”

Storrow said further that, just before the Burlington incident, she saw loud, unruly teenagers or young adults walking on top of the chairs through the mall’s food court.

Mall patrols 

Guilderland Police officers already patrol Crossgates Mall, although Cox declined to specify how many officers work there, or for how many hours a week. 

“We want to enhance our presence there and are looking to make an announcement about that in the next couple of days,” he said. 

Guilderland officers now work at Crossgates in two different programs, Cox said. 

One is mall patrols involving officers who are working overtime that is reimbursed to the police department by Pyramid Management, owners of Crossgates Mall. This program was established at the mall’s request, Cox said. He told The Enterprise earlier that these officers concentrate on common areas like the food court. 

The other is a program called Retail Intervention Detail, which is not reimbursed by the mall, Cox said. This program arose in response to a new trend in shoplifting, Cox told The Enterprise in December 2018, in which groups of people — two, or three, or five people — work together and create a distraction. This may involve throwing clothing racks onto the floor, and yelling and screaming, he said; the people involved in the disruption may do the shoplifting themselves, or their associates in another part of the store might do it. 

Sometimes the theft is not noticed until after the disruption has ended, he said. 

The age of the perpetrators varies, but generally they are kids or young adults, Cox told The Enterprise earlier. 

Crossgates Mall still has a parental-escort policy, according to its website, which states that, on Friday and Saturday nights beginning at 4 p.m., shoppers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who is 21 or older. This policy started in 2005, in response to three separate incidents of fights or brawls that police said were gang-related.

The recent incidents are not all taking place at night, Cox said earlier. “Sometimes it’s as early as 10:30 or 11 in the morning,” he said.

Officers in RID are placed in strategic areas that have experienced incidents before, so they can be on hand quickly if something happens, Cox said earlier; they also work closely with managers and security staff of stores that have been previously targeted. The police officers and the store staff share information with one another, including descriptions of people involved. 

When officers are called to the mall for crimes such as shoplifting, the mall does not reimburse the department, Cox said. 

He told The Enterprise in mid-December 2018 that 622 larcenies had been reported so far that year in Guilderland, with two-thirds of them occurring at Crossgates. Of the larcenies reported at Crossgates, one-fifth occurred during the holiday season, after Thanksgiving. 

Mall safety 

A number of people responded to the recent brawl video with comments about their fears that the mall is no longer a safe place to visit. 

Cox disagreed, saying, “We feel that, with our presence and with the security presence, and with all the different initiatives we’re doing, it’s no different than anywhere else. We’d hate to see people discouraged.” 

Incidents like the several brawls at the mall could happen anywhere, he said. Relative to the length of time that the mall has been there, there have been very few incidents, Cox said. 

The director of mall security did not return a call asking for comment by press time; neither did Michael Shanley, a partner in Pyramid Management.

Daniel McNally told The Enterprise in December, when he was appointed Guilderland’s police chief, that one of his short-term goals is to get a vendor agreement signed with Crossgates Mall, under which the department provides police presence and Pyramid pays the department. The system is already in place and working, but not yet made official, he said at the time. 

Cox said that the impending announcement on enhanced mall patrols is related to this agreement.  

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