Authorities release video of massive block party in Florida that turned violent

The release came after a newspaper quoted partygoers saying authorities had unfairly targeted black attendees.
Image: DeLand block party
In this aerial night image, a police cruiser moves slowly at a block party in DeLand, Fla., on Saturday, May 16, 2020.Volusia Sheriff's Office

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By Tim Stelloh

Law enforcement officials in Florida released body camera video of a massive weekend block party at which officers said they were punched and struck with glass bottles, a mason jar and a bar stool.

The release came after The West Volusia Beacon quoted partygoers saying authorities had unfairly targeted black attendees, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Monday.

"Because the majority of those in the crowd were black, and the deputies and police were white, we are now having ... hard conversations about race, racism and inequality," Chitwood said in a statement. "I don't accept the accusations that our deputies and police are racists, or that their actions Saturday were racially motivated. It's not true, and it's not a fair conclusion from the video.

"But given everything we know about our nation's history, I also know those feelings aren't just about Saturday night," he added.

The sheriff's office estimated that 3,000 people gathered at several locations around the city of DeLand, north of Orlando. DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger said the event was said to be a memorial, although he added that no permits were issued and that it wasn't advertised as such, NBC affiliate WESH of Orlando reported.

The bodycam video shows officers telling attendees to get out of the road and move their cars. At another point, an officer can be seen detaining a man alleged to have thrown a gun before running from authorities.

At other points, attendees can be heard screaming that the people being detained didn't do anything.

"This is what they do to black people," a partygoer told The West Volusia Beacon. "It's not fair."

Chitwood said seven people were arrested. Two men face charges of possession of a weapon and ammunition by a convicted felon, tampering with evidence, resisting arrest and other counts.

Other arrest details weren't immediately available.

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office said someone in a car pointed a rifle or a shotgun at officers. A man who had been at the party was later admitted to a hospital after being shot in the foot.

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Umberger said mending the relationship between the predominantly African American community of Spring Hill, where the event took place, and the DeLand Police Department has been one of his goals since he joined the department in 2017.

"We are clearly not there yet," he said.

He added that the city had canceled all coming public events because of the coronavirus pandemic, even though Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed counties to begin reopening this month.

"No one should be getting together in groups of 50 or more," he said.