Aventura - Sunny Isles

Brawl outside of theater results in evacuation of Aventura Mall

The line leading to the AMC 24 Theaters at the Aventura Mall stretched from the box office to the nearby mall entrance Saturday, as a noisy crowd of teens had gathered to buy tickets to two movies opening that night.

A fight soon broke out between two youths near the box office, spiraling into a mass brawl that spread to the theater, across the mall and to the parking lots.

``There was a fight at `Lottery Ticket,' and they evacuated an entire aisle of the theater,'' said Luis Chiu, 17, a twelfth-grader at North Miami Senior High. ``Then the fight continued outside, so the cops took over. It wasn't pretty.''

The melee erupted at about 10 p.m. and ended with the arrest of 12 minors, all between the ages of 14 and 17, according to Aventura police. At least three suspects were arrested for battery on a police officer and resisting arrest with violence.

Most of the minors were released to their parents. Those charged with felonies were taken to a Juvenile Assessment Center.

No one was seriously hurt in the fight or the rush to the exits, though some officers received minor injuries while trying to make arrests, said Aventura police spokesman Chris Goranitis.

Officers used Taser guns on several suspects. While witnesses reported hearing what they thought were gun shots in the parking lot, Aventura police determined there was none fired during the incident.

While police have not said what caused the fight, WPLG Channel 10 interviewed witnesses who said that it may have been sparked by two rival high school groups.

The scene was chaotic: As the fighting spread, several hundred people, many of them screaming, fled the theater at once, running from the concession stand area and knocking over the rope barriers by the exits.

Police directed the crowd outside the theater to exit the building, but initially did not let anyone leave the area by the parking lot outside the mall. Aventura police received assistance from the police departments of North Miami Beach, Golden Beach, Sunny Isles Beach and Miami-Dade County.

Niouseline St. Jean, 17, of Miami, was part of the crowd that was kept outside the mall, near the Cheesecake Factory, for about 30 minutes.

``All these middle and high school kids were fighting,'' she wrote at the time in a text message. ``Everything is on lockdown.''

This is not the first time crowd control has been an issue at the AMC in the Aventura Mall.

In January 2005, an off-duty Aventura officer was trying to remove a group of kids he said were causing trouble in the theater. The officer said he was jumped by other teens, and by the time it was over, the police had used Taser stun guns against four youths. Nine juveniles and two adults were arrested.

Goranitis said the police and mall management will meet with the theater to come up with a plan to prevent incidents like Saturday's from happening again.

There is already a robust police and security presence at the mall.

The Aventura police maintains a nine-officer unit on the property, which is mostly funded by the company that runs the mall, Turnberry Associates.

``Aventura Mall has a comprehensive security program in place, which includes off-duty Aventura Police Department officers and a sophisticated CCTV system,'' Aventura Mall general manager Oscar Pacheco said in a statement. ``We will continue working with the police and AMC Theaters regarding the incident.''

On Sunday, the Aventura Mall was crowded, as usual. Some people indicated they were worried about security near the theater.

``Security is an issue there and it's going to drive people away,'' said Amy Scharf, 37, of Aventura.

Seth Kaplan, 42, also of Aventura, agreed.

``I usually avoid the mall at nights,'' he said. ``I do think that these fighting issues are going to cause other people to stop going to the movies, but I was already concerned before this. The movies are dangerous in the evening.''

Other frequent mall shoppers were not as concerned.

``I'm still going to go to Aventura Mall,'' said Lauren Ovadia, 17, of Davie. ``There is going to be fights everywhere. Things happen.''

Mauicio Diocis, 20, of Aventura, said that while he was concerned about the incident, he still thinks the mall is best option in the area.

``When I heard about the fights it was really surprising, because Aventura is such a nice place,'' he said.

Student citizen journalists Alexandra Feuerman and Anthony Cave contributed to this report.