City preparing response to random attacks by youths

Posted: August 02, 2011

A man who crossed paths with a group of teenagers Friday afternoon in Old City ended up in the hospital with broken teeth and a wired jaw after the youths attacked him at Fourth and Walnut Streets.

Seven hours later, a crowd of young people cut a path of destruction through several Center City blocks, assaulting four other men, apparently at random, and leaving one unconscious and bleeding from the head. Of the four people arrested in those attacks, one is an 11-year-old boy.

On Monday, city officials promised to come down hard on anyone caught committing such acts of violence. They also said they were developing a "coordinated response" to deal with random youth attacks, a problem for more than a year despite increased patrols and a shift toward stricter punishments for offenders.

"We do not tolerate violence by any individuals in our city, and we will continue to respond with the full force of our city's justice system to kids who disrespect their city," Mayor Nutter said in a statement. "These troubled young people are only a small percentage of our city's youth, yet their impulsive actions impact all of our citizens. We need parents to know where their kids are every night. We need mentors to reach out into their communities and work with young people. We need the Police Department to be a continually visible presence on our streets. We need the District Attorney's Office and the courts to prosecute these offenders and make it clear that this behavior has very serious consequences."

Details are to be unveiled Monday. The mayor said the plan would take into account enforcement options, prosecution, counseling, and neighborhood outreach.

The Police Department on Monday also announced the launch of SafeCam, an online program that allows residents and businesses to register their security cameras with the city, to help police apprehend suspects quickly.

For police, the problem of so-called flash mobs or "wilding" youths has proved frustrating. The city gained national attention last year for stories about large packs of teenagers tearing down sidewalks, knocking over pedestrians, fighting, and vandalizing the Macy's store in Center City.

"We've got to get the parents involved," said Capt. Sharon Seaborough of Central Detectives, which is investigating the recent Center City attacks. "These kids need to understand: Not only are they hurting someone else, they're hurting themselves. They're hurting their chances for getting a good education, for getting a good job."

In the most recent attacks, a 36-year-old man was jumped by a group of youths at Fourth and Walnut about 2 p.m. Friday. According to one witness, who asked not to be identified, the man walked by a group of teenagers who suddenly began punching and kicking him.

"It was horrifying," the witness said. "I did the only thing I could think of, which was yell really loudly for them to stop. I got lucky - they ran off."

The man was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital with jaw and tooth injuries, police said.

It was not clear whether the afternoon attack had any connection to the later violence. No arrests have been made in the Old City assault. The teenagers were wearing their school uniforms during the attack, police said.

About 9 p.m., teenagers swarmed the sidewalk near 15th and Sansom Streets and punched a 33-year-old man in the face. An 11-year-old boy tried to grab the man's bag, according to a police report, but was not successful.

As the teens ran toward Walnut Street, police said, they punched another man they passed, knocking him to the ground. Police said they had not located that man, who they believe is homeless.

The mob then ran to Locust Street, where it descended on another person. One attacker snatched a wallet and cellphone from the victim and held it in the air as others in the group tried to snatch it away, witnesses said.

"No, you can all get your own cellphone on the next person we get," the teen told his friends, according to a police report.

At Juniper Street and Walnut, the group surrounded a 59-year-old man, punched and kicked him unconscious, and left him in the street, bleeding from the head. The teenagers fled as police arrived, but officers caught four of them, authorities said.

Both men injured Friday night were treated at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

On Saturday, Raymond Gatling, 19, and three juveniles, ages 11, 16, and 17, were charged with conspiracy, aggravated assault, and recklessly endangering another person. Gatling also was charged with robbery in the theft of the cellphone.


Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.

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