Anchorage police donned riot gear early Sunday to clear a downtown intersection of an impromptu 200-person street dance party that grew as crowds poured out of closing bars, kicking off a busy few hours for police including numerous reports of shots fired around the city.
Police reported no violence stemming from the initial incident, but two people were arrested for disorderly conduct and failing to leave the area.
Police were called to the intersection of Third Avenue and E Street at about 2:30 a.m. after someone reported gunshots, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Anita Shell said Sunday afternoon.
About a block away, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and D Street, by the Sunshine Plaza mall, they found an "unsanctioned street party" in progress.
Roughly 200 people were "dancing and shouting" in the street while a Cadillac Escalade blasted music, police said. Video of the incident showed some people dancing and running through the intersection while others hoisted cellphones to record the action.
When officers told the owner of the Escalade to turn off the music, the crowd got unruly and people refused to leave, police said.
With 22 patrol units on the scene -- every available on-duty police officer in the city, said Shell -- APD called in reinforcements from the University Police Department and Airport Police and donned riot gear.
Officers formed a line and told people to leave. Most eventually did.
Police said they don't believe the original report of shots fired had anything to do with the street party they found a block away when they arrived.
"We don't think there was any connection to it whatsoever," Shell said.
The large response and riot gear were a necessary show of force, she said.
"Police were outnumbered about five to one. (Members of the crowd were) not following the commands of officers. They were starting to get hostile toward police. Hitting police vehicles with their hands," Shell said. "That ratchets up our response. We need to show a presence of force to disperse the crowd."
Shell said she thought the last time police had found riot gear a necessity in breaking up a downtown crowd was in 2003, when a teen Fur Rondy dance turned violent.
Weekend bar break -- when all the bars downtown stop serving alcohol simultaneously -- always abruptly puts a thousand or so revelers on downtown sidewalks, said TJ Carmen, the managing owner of playHouse, a downtown bar and nightclub on Fourth Avenue that has been open for three months.
Carmen said some of the people dancing in the streets came from his establishment, which starts getting people out the door around 2:15 or 2:20 a.m., but others came from different Fourth Avenue bars.
"There was a small group and someone started playing music and dancing. Police asked them to turn the music down. And five people dancing turned into 10 turned into 100 turned into 200," Carmen said.
Carmen said he sensed a general mood of unwillingness to cooperate with the police directives. People in the crowd were talking about police brutality in the Lower 48, he said. He saw no violent altercations between police and patrons, but people kept dancing after they were told to leave because "there were just enough numbers there that people felt like they weren't going to get arrested," he said.
"It wasn't violent really," he said. "It was just bizarre."
He said he plans to "86," or ban, about 20 patrons for their involvement in the fracas.
"This behavior is inexcusable," he said.
Bar break and the resulting lingering sidewalk crowd presents a chronic, well-documented problem for downtown nightlife, he said.
"People congregated outside is going to turn to something like that," he said. "We do things to try and mitigate it."
Carmen said that includes taking steps to keep potentially troublesome patrons out, such as using metal detector wands and patdowns to search for weapons and trying to get people out of the club over a staggered period of time, instead of in one big rush.
"There should be more police presence downtown," he said. "I would love a much more present police force downtown rather than a reactive one."
Carmen said he has asked police to park a car at the intersection of Fourth and D to help with bar-break crowd control in the future.
The beginning of a busy night
The downtown call was only the beginning of a string of incidents during the next three hours, all of which involved weapons.
An hour-and-a-half later, at 4 a.m., police said gunshots had been reported in the College Gate neighborhood, and two houses about a block apart -- on the 3800 block of Gardner Street and the 5200 block of Sharon Street -- had been damaged by gunfire.
Then, at 4:07 a.m., there was a report of shots fired in the vicinity of Oregon and Wyoming drives in the neighborhood of Spenard. Officers responded and found an apartment party where teenagers were drinking. Between eight and 10 teenagers were also cited for underage alcohol consumption, Shell said.
Police arrested 22-year-old Anthony Dawn Mahle-Sounthone for disobeying a lawful order of a police officer and 18-year-old Sengtavent Choumkhammany for disorderly conduct, but were told the people who had fired the shots that originally brought authorities to the residence had left. Police said they don't know who fired shots in that case.
About a half-hour later, police received a report of blood, shell casings and broken glass in an alley behind a Chevron gas station in Fairview, but were unable to identify a victim.
Finally, police said they received a report of a man who arrived at a local hospital shortly after 5 a.m. with a non-life-threatening injury to his hand which he said was from a nail gun, but authorities believe was the result of a gunshot.
"It is unknown if he may have been a victim of earlier shootings that occurred overnight or if this was a separate unreported incident," police said.