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Snohomish street brawl divulged three days later

Police chief waits to tell mayor, City Council about Sunday’s melee

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By Katya Yefimova and Debra Smith
Herald Writers
SNOHOMISH — Police Chief John Turner dropped a bombshell near the end of Tuesday’s City Council meeting: Two officers were hurt in a post-Kla Ha Ya Days brawl on the city’s main tourist street early Sunday morning.
That was the first time Snohomish police had discussed the incident in public.
It was the first time the mayor and the rest of the City Council had heard about it, too.
“We were all kind of dumbfounded,” City Councilman R.C. “Swede” Johnson said. “Why would the press release come out on — excuse me — Wednesday?”
The police chief said he was still trying Tuesday evening to sort out the details of what happened, and the council meeting was the first opportunity to share what he’d learned with the community. The police department on Wednesday issued a press release on the incident.
“We did not sit on any information. I want to make that clear from the get-go,” Turner said.
The problems began when a fight broke out around 12:30 a.m. Sunday in front of the Time Out Sports Bar and Sports Page Grille and Bar, both on First Street.
About 100 people spilled outside. At one point, four separate fights were broiling.
Initially, seven Snohomish officers were on the scene trying to break things up. Some in the crowd weren’t cooperative, Turner said. Two Snohomish officers suffered injuries after people punched and kicked them in the head and ripped their uniforms. One of the officers was hurt badly enough he was placed on restricted duty for a week.
“The crowd became antagonistic toward the officers,” Turner said. “It was fueled by a lot of alcohol. It became, really, an unruly mob.”
The officers stood back-to-back and protected themselves with pepper spray while roughly two dozen police officers sped to their aid, some racing from as far away as Granite Falls. Three people were arrested, one from the Snohomish area and two from Lake Stevens.
Mayor Randy Hamlin didn’t learn of the melee until Tuesday’s meeting, but he said he wasn’t concerned. It is the responsibility of the police chief and city manager Larry Bauman to decide when the information should be released, he said.
“There was no public danger that needed to be communicated,” Hamlin said.
Bauman said the police needed time to sort out conflicting information.
“We were trying to make sure we had the story straight,” Bauman said.
The city’s Kla Ha Ya Days is billed as a family-friendly celebration with a parade and a frog-jumping contest. More than an estimated 4,000 people attended the three-day event, according to organizer Dallas VanDyke.
Police believe many of the people involved in the fighting were not from Snohomish.
Ben Beranek, 33, said he is a regular at the First Street bar scene. On Wednesday afternoon, he was not aware of Sunday’s problems.
“If anybody’s causing fights, definitely not the locals,” he said. “We come here to relax.”
Turner said somebody tried to make the bad situation worse. Within minutes of the trouble starting early Sunday, the police department began receiving a series of four bogus 911 calls, reporting knife fights elsewhere along First Street, he said.
Officers headed to help break up the melee were diverted to check out the fake reports of violence, Turner said.
In half of the messages, the caller said people were seriously injured or bleeding; at the same time they reported the attacks involved people armed with “knives and forks,” Turner said.
Detectives are investigating, trying to determine who placed the phony calls.
Turner said the trouble Sunday underscores the need for adequate police presence at big events. “What’s really critical here is the issue of alcohol fueling people’s actions,” Turner said.
The melee happened two months after Snohomish police engaged in a tense showdown with motorcyclists on First Street. About 1,000 bikers showed up in May on the date of a classic motorcycle show that had been canceled over a dispute about how the show’s organizers should pay for police services.
Turner said he is concerned about recurring problems with drunkenness on First Street. At least a few serious fights erupt each year.
Both of the bars police say were linked to Sunday morning’s brawl have had problems with the state Liquor Control Board, spokesman Brian Smith said.
Sports Page Grille and Bar has had three violations since February 2007, records show. Agents caught minors in the bar on one occasion and twice bartenders were caught serving alcohol to people who were already intoxicated, Smith said.
Each of those violations were considered “most serious,” and “You don’t want to have three violations in that category in three years,” Smith said.
The bar faces a five-day license suspension or a $2,500 fine unless an appeal is filed.
Time Out Sports Bar had one violation in February 2008 for serving someone who was clearly drunk, Smith said.
Any place that serves liquor must renew its license annually. City officials are given a report of any violations each year and they may petition state officials to deny a license renewal.
On Tuesday, Turner suggested that video camera surveillance downtown may be part of the solution to a problem that has plagued Snohomish for generations.
The mayor said the City Council will consider the suggestion.
“No one likes to see this happen. It’s a quiet town,” said Christian James, co-owner of the Everything Tea store on First Street.
James said he wasn’t worried for his business. “We have good police protection,” he said.
Reporter Jackson Holtz contributed to this report.
Story tags » SnohomishPoliceInjuries

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