Tension rose for hours before melee, police say

Tension rose for hours before melee, police say

Antonio Thompkins

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by Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Fred Clasen-Kelly / Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on June 2, 2011 at 7:58 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 2 at 8:58 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Even before a 22-year-old man was fatally shot after Food Lion Speed Street last weekend, tensions had been rising for hours in uptown Charlotte, a new city report shows.

At one point, a crowd began charging toward officers, fleeing after someone yelled "gun." Police formed a barrier as officers subdued a combative person they had shocked with a Taser.

City officials on Wednesday released the first in-depth account about unrest that culminated in a fatal shooting and more than 70 arrests late Saturday and early Sunday.


Map: Arrests between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Document: CMPD summary of events


The details emerged the same day Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said they were searching for Antonio Thompkins, 20, on murder and assault charges in connection with the 1 a.m. Sunday slaying of Antwan Terrell Smith. Police have accused Thompkins of shooting Smith and wounding Durante Kavon James in the leg. James, 22, is expected to survive.

The report says the disturbances did not happen at the uptown Speed Street festival, but police were concerned about surging crowds of youths between ages 10 and 25 outside the event as early as 6 p.m. Saturday. Trouble escalated shortly after the festival closed at 11 p.m., including the 11:30 p.m. confrontation outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel between officers and the charging crowd.

The report also contains a map showing many of the arrests were concentrated near the transit center, the EpiCentre and Time Warner Cable Arena. The arrests include two for assault on an officer.

"Though the Center City area experienced large crowds and several fights, the fights were limited to small groups of individuals," the report says. "Control of the Center City was maintained at all times."

But the incident has elevated concern about safety at large uptown events and gang-related crime throughout the city. It has also raised questions about security at the Charlotte Transportation Center.

"The bus station needs to be moved two or three miles from uptown. It brings in too many people who cause problems," said one uptown restaurant manager, who did not want his name published for fear of reprisal.

City council member Patrick Cannon, who chairs the council's community safety committee, said a large number of people were loitering at the transit center instead of using it to board buses.

"We have to get our minds around managing large numbers of people using the transit center," Cannon said. "That's why the transportation piece, in my mind, is more important than anything else."

Bryan Leaird, head of security for the Charlotte Area Transit System, said officials beefed up security last weekend with extra officers, lighting and barricades.

Leaird said the plan was "successful," emphasizing there were no arrests or incidents inside the transit center. Any problems, he said, occurred among throngs of people lining the sidewalks, which CATS does not police.

The map in the report shows arrests and calls for service at the transit center, but Police Capt. Jeff Estes, who oversees the center city, said those could reflect incidents reported near the transit center, such as on sidewalks.

Mayor Anthony Foxx is expected to address issues surrounding the disturbances at a press conference today. At a City Council meeting Wednesday, Foxx said the top priority is catching the suspect. He said he wants to have all the facts before determining whether the response by CMPD was appropriate.

CMPD will give City Council a report Monday, but councilman Warren Turner said he is already convinced the department took the proper steps. Turner suggested the media has mischaracterized what happened.

"I feel like the city handled it well, the police department, very well," Turner said.

Councilman David Howard said uptown is one of the safest areas of the city, but "we have some perception issues."

Estes, the police captain, said the department plans to have officers in the civil emergency unit uptown for next year's Speed Street.

Previously, that unit has only been called in during the Fourth of July Celebration and New Year's Eve, uptown's largest events. Staff Writer Steve Harrison and staff researcher Maria David contributed.

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