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Mall of America bedlam: 9 arrested after fights force lockdown in some stores

Jessica Fleming, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn. –

Nine people were arrested after fights involving possibly hundreds of youths roiled the jam-packed Mall of America on the day after Christmas.

Officials said that at least 10 fights broke out Monday and that some stores went into lockdown during the melees with customers still inside.

A fight between 15 youths also broke out in the transit center around 5:30 p.m., said Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland.

Metro Transit police deployed pepper spray into the area of the fight after their verbal commands were ignored, Siqveland said. Two adults and one juvenile were questioned, identified, warned and released.

Police stayed at the mall for several hours to keep order in and around the transit center, perform crowd control and help people board buses and brains, he said. No further incidents were reported at the mall.

For a brief time Monday at the mall, a lockdown message went out inadvertently, said Dan Jasper, a spokesman for the Mall of America. Within two minutes, the message was rescinded. Some stores kept their doors locked.

It’s unclear how long people were inside stores that kept their doors closed, he said.

There were “small incidents” of youths grabbing items, but there was no reported widespread theft, he said.

On Tuesday, employees at Nordstrom’s said some glass was smashed in the store during the incidents Monday, displays knocked over at the cosmetics counter and hangbags and cosmetic items taken. Nordstrom’s had its doors shut to

the public for about two hours, according to employees.

Employees said they heard the incident was a “smash and grab” mob.

“It was supposed to be fun and running through but it was more than that,” said Desiree Bastyr, works in cosmetics department.

Around 1:30 p.m., Matt Danielson, of St. Paul, was ordering a sandwich from ChikWich in the mall’s food court when he heard loud noises.

Danielson saw dozens of people – adults and juveniles – running in all directions. He soon realized the loud popping sound came from chairs and trays being tossed around in the food court.

He saw one individual being stomped on in the corner.

It was “complete pandemonium,” Danielson said.

He shopped for several more hours with his cousin. Throughout the afternoon, Danielson saw kids running throughout the mall as if it was a playground.

Police and mall officials continue to investigate what prompted the melee.

Large groups of youths gathering to cause mayhem is a social phenomenon happening across the country, Jasper said.

“Unfortunately it happened here, and unfortunately it happened during the holiday season,” he said.

Whether their effort was organized, Jasper couldn’t say.

“We don’t know what the motive was or what caused it,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the Mall of America incident was part of a trend that alarms retailers – the growth of criminal flash mobs, groups that coordinate on social media sites, swarm into stores and ransack shelves.

“No doubt, the trend is growing quite quickly,” the National Retail Federation warned its members in August.

“We classify these as a multiple-offender crime, where a pre-existing group – everyone from gangs to teenagers to robbery crews – engages in illegal activity,” Joe Larocca, the retail group’s senior asset protection advisor, said this summer. He said the problem goes beyond financial losses, to include disrupting business in stores and shopping centers, and creating “significant safety concerns.”

In July, the group polled its retail members and found that 79 percent had been victimized by “multiple offender crime” in the previous year.

The mall has stepped up its police presence through the end of the week.

“This week traditionally we have more security on,” Jasper said. “But we’re going even beyond that for the rest of the week.”

Mall officials will evaluate Monday’s response and work with Bloomington police to see if any improvements can be made.

Meanwhile, scuffles continued Monday night on buses from the mall into downtown St. Paul, Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, he said. There were no reports of injuries.

An individual threw soda on a bus driver around 8:34 p.m. in Minneapolis, which caused a minor service disruption, Siqveland said. The bus driver was replaced. Metro Transit police are investigating the incident.

Meanwhile, after St. Paul police responded to fights downtown near bus stops Monday night, they responded around 8:15 p.m. to a report of a group of individuals assaulting patrons outside the Hat Trick Bar, said Howie Padilla, a police spokesman.

The individuals believed to have been involved in the assault were identified and removed from a bus at 134 5th St. E.

Police arrested four juveniles and an 18-year-old, Diamonte Markel Hickerson, for disorderly conduct, according to an incident report.

Many of the youths apparently were drawn to the Bloomington mall by unfounded rumors on social media that rappers Drake and Lil Wayne were going to be there.

Police said the first fight erupted at 4:20 p.m. in the north food court of the mall.

“After that first fight, they were running around en masse,” Bloomington police Cmdr. Mark Stehlik said. “Every once in a while a fight would flare up between these groups.”

Stehlik didn’t know Tuesday morning what prompted the fights.

Taco Bell employee David Dunn-Schuda said the group was “just going crazy, running through the mall and fighting.”

“It seemed like they were running a marathon, taking off and running people over. Then everyone was getting on top of tables trying to record it” (with cellphone cameras).

The nine arrests were for disorderly conduct, Stehlik said. No serious injuries were reported, he said.

Mall of America spokeswoman Bridget Jewell said officials were not aware of visits by the rappers.

“Usually, when celebrities are going to be here they let our security team know,” she said.

Late Monday, authorities were still trying to determine what caused the fights.

Stehlik said early reports of gunshots were not substantiated by police.

At one point, 30 Bloomington police officers were at the mall, Stehlik said. Mall of America security officers and Metro Transit police officers also responded to quell the unrest. It took more than an hour to bring the fights under control.

More than 150,000 people were expected to visit the mall for post-Christmas shopping and gift exchanging, Jewell said. A typical busy Saturday sees 100,000 visitors.

Jewell said the mall did not lock down although some stores did.

“There were some stores that decided to go into lockdown by themselves but it was not a lockdown that was instigated,” she said.

Incidents such as Monday’s have been a rare occurrence since the 19-year-old Mall of America instituted a youth escort policy in 1996.

After disturbances among youths hanging out on weekend nights, the mall required an adult to accompany anyone younger than age 16 after 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

More than three dozen malls out of 1,100 in the United States have teen curfew and escort policies. Most of those policies have been put in place since 2004, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based shopping center trade organization.

Stehlik said police had not dealt with a similar situation at the megamall.

Mall officials said they would review security and work with Bloomington police to determine whether changes are needed.

Mall of America is the nation’s largest shopping mall, and the most-visited tourist attraction in the country. More than 42 million shoppers visit the Bloomington mega-mall each year.

The mall says 40 percent of those are tourists, which the mall courts in showy ways. Those range from packaged tours for international visitors, securing naming rights to the Vikings’ Mall of America Field in Minneapolis, and agreeing to feature its mall security team in a TLC reality show, “Mall Cops: Mall of America.”¬†

Those efforts have been successful at boosting MOA’s national reputation, so widespread news of a melee at the mall presents it with a special difficulty. Raw footage of the rolling fights have shown up everywhere from cable TV to the Drudge Report.

In recent years, the mega-mall has been trying to tailor a finer image. It is halfway through a four-year, multi-million dollar renovation aimed at glamming up the mega-mall. That included adding Italian tile and two-story chandeliers – and a growing roster of upscale tenants.

In May, construction began on a 501-room Radisson Blu luxury hotel, which will be connected to the mall by a sky bridge. That project carries a price tag of $130 million.

Brady Gervais and Tom Webb contributed to this report.

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