DC police chief says ZooLights violence isn't part of uptick in mob attacks

Tuesday, DC Police Chief Peter Newsham described the violence seen near ZooLights on Saturday to be separate from the increase in attacks involving groups of juveniles across the District.

FOX 5 obtained exclusive surveillance video capturing the Saturday mayhem from a security camera inside the frozen yogurt shop just across the street from the Smithsonian National Zoo. The owner says his wife had to get stitches after being punched several times during a fight that broke out at the store, one of at least three serious incidents reported on day two of the ZooLights holiday event.

A zoo spokesperson tells FOX 5 they had what they thought was the appropriate amount of zoo police and staff on scene based on how many have attended in the past. However, unlike other nights, Saturday included large and unexpected groups of disruptive teens at the event.

The chaos included fireworks set-off inside the zoo, which caused a panic among ZooLights goers. The zoo made a decision to close early. Large swaths of teens spilled out of the zoo, toward the businesses across the street where a fight erupted inside the frozen yogurt shop. Two teens were also found shot nearby.

Zoo officials say there was immediate police response. An ambulance and two police vehicles can be seen in cell phone video taken of the yogurt shop fight, but police were not able to intervene.

Earlier in November, a FOX 5 analysis revealed a more than 50 percent increase in juvenile mob attacks across the district, with the most serious assaults up nearly 80 percent from time last year.

Given the popularity of the ZooLights, the increase in juvenile mob violence and the history of violence around past Easter events at the zoo, FOX 5 asked DC Police Chief Peter Newsham whether Saturday was a matter of the city and DC police not being ready.

“No, I don’t think so at all. In a matter of fact, in the 13 years of Zoo lights, this is the first time they’ve had to shut it down early. So to suggest that this is something that happens all the time in D.C. is not accurate,” said Newsham.

When pressed about the increasing violence around groups of teens, Newsham added,  “We are seeing an increase in the number of juvenile-related robberies where we have young people that are involved in robberies. Most of those robberies involve either juveniles snatching items from people or what’s called a force in violence robbery where they’ll assault the person and take their property so that is a troubling trend that we’ve seen recently but I think the thing at the zoo is a little be bit different from that.”

When asked about what’s being done to prevent violence from breaking out within these large groups, the Chief pointed to access to illegal firearms in the District as an issue.

“And then you see firearms in the hands of young people it’s even more troubling,” said Newsham, “What I see from where I sit is we need to look on the back end when we take custody of these folks that are involved in weapons-related offenses to make sure that we have consequences that change behavior, I’m not completely sure that the city that the entire criminal justice system is taking an approach that’s ensuring that there are consequences…”

DC police confirmed as of Tuesday evening, there are still no arrests in any of the incidents that unfolded around ZooLights Saturday.

Chief Newsham said in addition to increased security, “Credible Messengers” will also be patrolling the zoo. These are community mentors who the chief said knows a lot of teens in the DC area and are trained to intervene if they learn of a dispute.

FOX 5 was told Mayor Bowser was in back-to-back meetings Tuesday and was not available to interview on the matter.