Florida cops seize enough guns for a ‘small army’ from spring breakers

Florida law enforcement officials say they arrested 78 people from Alabama in Panama City Beach, Fla., over the weekend and confiscated 75 guns as spring break revelry devolved into chaos.

“What we saw this past weekend is absolutely unacceptable,” Panama City Beach Police Chief J.R. Talamantez said in a multi-agency press conference held late Monday morning. “The behavior of these pathetic cowards that came to our beach and committed these crimes, their actions will not be tolerated.”

The weekend apparently started on a rowdy note before coming to a head on Sunday afternoon, when a 21-year-old from Alabama was shot in the foot.

In a report aired before the shooting, Panama City-based ABC affiliate WMBB-TV reported that some beach roads had been shut down and some businesses had closed voluntarily, including a Walmart, due to gridlock and rowdy behavior. Interviewed at the time, Talamantez told the station that people were “acting a fool” but that there had been no violence and that he would not characterize any of the activity as a riot.

On Sunday, the Majestic Towers Beach Resort posted on Facebook that things had been “extremely eventful, to say the least.”

“Last night, due to large crowds along Front Beach Road and large crowds walking through the local Walmart, knocking items of the shelves and destroying Walmart property, the Panama City Beach Police shut down portions of Front Beach Road, between Hutchison Blvd and Richard Jackson Blvd for approximately two hours in order to control the crowds,” resort managers said in a post. “While Panama City Beach Police had over 100 officers on duty last night from agencies all around the area, there were thousands upon thousands of visitors. Thankfully there were not any incidents on Majestic property. However, there were large crowds walking on the sidewalks, and through traffic along Front Beach Road. Keep in mind these were not your typical Spring Break crowd. Up until this weekend we had large crowds of Spring Breakers, without incident.”

The uneasy status quo didn’t hold through Sunday. WJHG-TV, a Panama City-based NBC affiliate, reported that authorities had made some 161 arrests, including the 78 from Alabama. Talamantez and other said they had been braced for trouble for weeks or even months, related to a specific group of people allegedly motivated by a social media influencer.

On Sunday, he said, offers were flooding into a particular area because of reports the situation was getting out of hand. Something caused the crowd to run onto a nearby roadway, and while police were trying to restore order, the shooting occurred nearby. At least six people were arrested at the scene. The chief also referred to an incident in which people had caused “absolute destruction” inside a Walmart.

As Talamantez spoke, scores of pistols and rifles were laid out on a table before them.

“These guns were taken over a period of two days,” the chief said. “It could arm a small army. Semiautomatic weapons, long rifles, these are weapons brought to a resort destination. These are weapons brought to a beach.”

“This is an event that we’ve been planning for and gathering intelligence on for two or three weeks,” said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford, referring to a group or event called “Panamaniac.” “It allowed us to target the bad guys, and know where they were, and be there before they got there.”

Ford said law enforcement officials had been doing intelligence work for weeks. Over the weekend, they had used technology such as license plate readers and surveillance cameras to track people of interest, he said.

Online materials for an event titled “Panamaniac 2 Final Invasion” appear to target a predominantly Black audience. However, there also was an online site selling “Panamaniac VIP Cards” offering discounts on cover charges and other bonuses to visitors, and photos on that page showed a white, college-age crowd. Attempts to reach local officials for clarification were not immediately successful.

Late Monday afternoon, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office released more information, saying that unspecified social media entities had promoted a “PCB Takeover.”

Source: AL
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