Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen invoked the hand-of-one, hand-of-all doctrine Thursday and warned teenagers involved in an early Sunday crime spree downtown that if they didn’t choose to cooperate, they could be held responsible just for being present.
“Anybody who was on the street with this particular group Saturday or Sunday morning, now is a very good time for them to make a decision about whether they want to be a cooperating witness or they would like to be a co-defendant,” he said at a press briefing at the Charleston Police Department on Lockwood Drive. “I can assure you that if people do not choose to cooperate with us, we will do everything in our power to make sure that we utilize every statute available to hold them accountable for what happened over the weekend.”
Mullen announced a second person implicated in the roaming group of teens, but did not identify him other than to say he is a 16-year-old who will be charged with purse snatching. Investigators had an order to pick him up Thursday afternoon, but he was not yet in custody by 3 p.m.
Jordan Hall, a ninth-grader at Burke High School who was arrested Monday and charged with two counts of second-degree assault and battery by mob, was also charged with robbery Thursday morning. Mullen said investigators believe the 17-year-old was the leader of the roaming pack of youths.
The group, Mullen said, began their night at a 16-year-old’s birthday party at the YWCA. They were invited via social media and at least 200 people attended, he said.
When it was over, police think about 40 of the 200 attendees dispersed into smaller groups and began their rampage through town.
There were four reported assaults downtown, along with one robbery and a purse snatching. Mullen said it is believed that a group of about 16 was responsible for those acts, and that they were led by Hall.
There also were two related assaults on Rutledge Avenue near Sumter Street, but Mullen said another group, related to the YWCA party but separate from the above group, appears to be responsible for those.
He added with certainty that every teenager involved in the assaults came from the party at the YWCA, and said those whom police have identified have been between the ages of 13 and 17.
One of the incident reports said police were called to the facility on Coming Street about 12:30 a.m. A large crowd had just left and officers responded because of a disturbance, according to police spokesman Charles Francis.
Mullen said from that point on, officers were responding to every call for service involving the assaults and “engaging the groups” responsible.
“They were moving very fast, they were splitting up very quickly, and as the officers were engaging them, we were trying to get identifications so that arrests could be made that night,” he said. “As you can probably understand, people who were being sucker-punched or surrounded were not able to give very good descriptions, so it was very difficult for officers to make any arrests that particular night.”
He added that in at least one of the cases, officers took victims to a group of individuals “that we had engaged,” but they were unable to identify anyone.
Several people called 911 the night of the attacks, including a couple of the victims. Some described as many as 50 or 60 kids standing in the street blocking cars and fighting and others described smaller groups and expressed frustration while waiting for police to arrive.
Julia Nelson, 21, one of the callers, said Thursday night that she has thought a lot about the group since she saw them standing in the road near her house.
“I just wonder where they all came from, I mean I know they were at a party, but they seem so young,” she said. “It’s confusing.”
The College of Charleston student wasn’t attacked, but said she spoke to a woman who told her some of the youths threw her phone and threatened to come back to her home.
Nelson said one of the kids in the group warned her and a friend to get away as the youths started moving closer.
“One of the boys came up to my friend and asked to use her phone,” she said, adding that he called his mom to be picked up. “The group started coming toward us and he said, ‘run.’ ”
The three of them got away.
Nelson guessed that the boy was about 12 or 13 and said he seemed “overwhelmed and distraught,” but didn’t give any insight as to what was going on.
“He just said that they were fighting,” she said.
One of the group members was robbed, according to police reports, but Nelson said she didn’t know if it was the boy who ran up to her and her friend.
When asked about the motivation behind the crimes, Mullen described a mob mentality and said he couldn’t speculate about whether or not race was in any way involved.
All the teens were black, according to witnesses, and all but one of the people attacked were white.
“At this point I believe that this was a group of young people that got very, very excited at that particular party and that crowd dynamic took over and they just committed criminal acts, and as they were committing those acts, it raised the energy level in that group,” he said, adding that there was absolutely no connection to the local shooting of Walter Scott or the violence in Baltimore.
Mullen said that every day the case gets stronger and more information is given to detectives, adding that he’s confident more arrests will be made.
Mullen said in the coming days, the Police Department will be working with the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to set up times to take depositions from uncooperative individuals believed to be involved in the groups. The mob statute gives Solicitor Scarlett Wilson subpoena powers and authority to depose under oath.
Subpoenas are issued to compel someone to testify or produce evidence. Penalties for not complying can include jail time.
Mullen also said that state law allows for charges to be brought against individuals involved in the groups, whether they participated in the assaults or were just present at the time.
“It was completely unacceptable, it was an aberration and certainly something that was unusual and we hope never happens again in the city; however we want to make sure everyone involved in that understands how seriously we are taking it,” he said. “I hope the individuals that were witnesses that clearly were not directly involved understand that they have a path to choose and I hope that they choose the correct one.”
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.