POLICE: Mall St. Matthews unrest had been building up since Octo - WDRB 41 Louisville News

POLICE: Mall St. Matthews unrest had been building up since October

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- St. Matthews Police released brand new details about the events leading up to the unrest at Mall St. Matthews on Dec. 26 during a press conference Wednesday morning.

In an opening to the press conference, St. Matthews Police Chief Dennis McDonald issued a challenge to the public.

"Idle time is the playground of the Devil," McDonald said, adding that behavior at the mall on Saturday night ranged "from childish to criminal."

McDonald added that, "times are different" now than they were when he grew up, pointing out that when he was a teenager, there was no social media like Facebook or Twitter.

"There were elements in this that may be involved in social media," he said.

McDonald lashed out at those who argued that there may be a racial component involved in the makeup of the youths that took part in the disturbances Saturday.

"Why in the world is that important?" he demanded. "These are our kids!"

"We as adults are failing!" he added. "What we ought to be doing is standing in the gap." He said adults could do this by becoming more involved in the lives of youth, through mentoring or coaching a sports team.

"This is a community issue," he said, adding that what happened Saturday night is "symptomatic" of a community-wide problem.

McDonald said the mall estimates that 1,000 to 2,000 youths were in the fray Saturday, but cautioned that many of them were innocent of any wrongdoing. He said the mall regularly keeps tab of the number of people inside, but said, "I don't think any of them had an abacus. I don't think any of them had a clicker counting how many people were there."

McDonald directly confronted questions to police about why no arrests were made. He said officers responded quickly but incrementally -- and they didn't have 50 officers on the scene until the end of the event. He said that their primary goal was to preserve public safety, and that, had officers witnessed crimes first-hand, there would have been arrests.

He said officers who responded "did a great job -- they showed great restraint," and pointed out that there were no serious injuries and that there had been no serious damage to property.

At that point, Tony Cobaugh, Special Response Team Commander for St. Matthews Police took up the press conference, and began outlining events leading up to Dec. 25.

"There has certainly been a lead-up, or a build-up, if you will," he said.

In fact, Cobaugh said officers have been dealing with increasing problems at the mall -- specifically on Saturday nights -- since October.

He outlined a number of events, including an Oct. 5 break-in of a car near LA Fitness. He noted an October report of seven juveniles setting a fire at a bus stop near Hubbards Lane. When asked where they came from, one of the juveniles allegedly said, "The mall."

On Nov. 7, Cobaugh said about 50 juveniles were reported loitering inside the Taco Bell near the mall. Cobaugh said the juveniles were not buying anything, were acting disorderly and were trashing the store. When officers arrived, Cobaugh said several of the juveniles jumped the counter and ran away.

Cobaugh said that in the same month, a victim reported an armed robbery near the LA Fitness in that area.

Cobaugh outlined several other incidents, and said it was decided that St. Matthews Police would "beef up" its presence at Mall St. Matthews on Saturday nights.

"Our chief had heard enough about the last month's activity in the area of Mall St. Matthews," Cobaugh said.

The first night of the increased police presence was Nov. 14, according to Cobaugh. He said police stopped three men in the mall parking lot. One of them allegedly threw a gun into the bushes. 

Cobaugh said police began to notice "suspected gang members" at the mall. He said they were suspected because they were using gang symbols and wore clothing consistent with gangs.

On Nov. 28, Cobaugh said police saw "large numbers" of youth at the mall, despite the rainy weather. He said they began receiving numerous reports of disruptive behavior, including youths who grabbed landscaping rocks and began throwing them at the windshields of passing cars.

Then came Dec. 5 -- what Cobaugh called "the most chaotic night to date for us." He said "amazing things" happened that night, and the number of juveniles inside the mall doubled. Cobaugh said there was an assault inside the mall, and one person suffered a head injury. He said there was also someone inside the mall that had a gun in his waistband, but officers failed to apprehend him.

Cobaugh said that at this point, two plainclothes Louisville Metro Police detectives approached St. Matthews Police and offered to help beef up security at the mall. Cobaugh said that the officers "inserted themselves" into the mall on Dec. 12.

Dec. 12 was a quiet night, according to Cobaugh. He said the mall had just posted a brand new Code of Conduct, and that the unsupervised crowd of youth was, "very low, light in numbers, thus that particular night was very low in activity." 

The following weekend, Cobaugh said police beefed up their presence on both the nights of Friday, Dec. 18, and Saturday, Dec. 19, due to the fact that kids were out of school for Christmas vacation. He called Friday a, "peaceful, uneventful night," but said things "picked back up on the negative side," on Saturday night, with police active for 90 minutes responding to reports of disruptions.

A few days later, on Dec. 22, Cobaugh said a man was confronted by an unarmed mall security employee. That man allegedly turned around, and showed the security employee a gun that was in his waistband.

All of that, Cobaugh said, provides a snapshot into the situation leading into last Saturday.

Saturday, Dec. 26

Cobaugh began his account of the events of Saturday, Dec. 26 with what he said was a frank admission. He said he decided not to work at the mall that night, due to a desire to watch a Christmas movie with his family. Although there were four St. Matthews Police officers working at the mall that night, Cobaugh said, "We did not have a presence on this particular evening, working the external area of the mall."

"I'm the first person to point the finger at myself," he told the media.

As the night progressed, Cobaugh said he was communicating with his officers at the mall. One of them warned him, "I've never seen the mall this packed...I hope I don't have to talk to you later tonight."

Later in the evening, Cobaugh said an officer told him that he was "one fight away" from asking for additional help. That call eventually came.

"I'm calling the SRT out. This is out of control," Cobaugh said an officer told him.

On his way in, Cobaugh said he put the Jeffersontown Police Department's special operations unit on standby.

When he arrived, Cobaugh said he immediately knew police were "short on numbers." He recounted a call from an officer inside who was reporting on the trouble, adding that you could hear "fear" in the officer's voice.

The dispatchers heard it too, Cobaugh said. 

"When they heard that crackle in the officer's voice," the dispatchers declared a "10-30" -- meaning that an officer was in trouble, Cobaugh said. That brought available police officers to the scene immediately.

Cobaugh said in the aftermath of Saturday night, he wanted to thank everyone -- all of the police officers and members of law enforcement, including dispatchers -- who responded to the chaos. 

Since then, more information has been pouring in. He said there were numerous reports of 2-3 shots fired in the mall -- but those reports cannot be verified. He said at least one employee at the mall has quit their job and refuses to return after the incidents. He said that one store owner told police that, "my employees were crying. They were scared -- in fear of their lives."

Stay with WDRB News. We'll update this story as it develops.

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