PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – Law enforcement officials in a popular Florida spring break destination say criminals were among the massive crowds that poured into town over the weekend.
Several Panama City Beach businesses closed their doors early over the weekend as a heavy police presence was called to the area for crowd control.
Police Chief J.R. Talamantez confirmed that the local Walmart was one of the businesses that opted to shut down early. Video taken from inside the store shows the aisles in disarray, with hats, sunscreen and other merchandise knocked off the shelves by rowdy shoppers.
Rock’it Lanes, a bowling alley and roller rink, also closed its doors earlier than normal Saturday. Fine dining restaurant Firefly followed.
Massive crowds also made it hard for some pedestrians to navigate the town’s sidewalks. Police officers worked to control traffic on city streets.
“We were getting run over by people,” said visitor Ladariya Gurley. “They were pushing us.”
When asked if people were behaving any worse than typical spring breakers, Talamantez said aside from people “acting a fool,” nothing violent happened Saturday night.
However, the next day there was a shooting on Front Beach Road. One person was shot in the foot, police said.
Following the shooting, Panama City Beach detained three people with guns.
“I personally encountered an individual holding an AR-15 who is now in custody,” Talamantez said.
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said officers and deputies had seized 75 guns and booked 161 people at the jail over the weekend.
On Sunday, the heads of three local law enforcement agencies held a joint press conference describing the weekend’s crimes.
“What we saw this past weekend is absolutely unacceptable. Period,” said Talamantez. “The crowd that has been here this weekend, there is no words that can describe the way they have behaved themselves, conducted themselves, and the amount of laws they have broken.”
He added that an officer was cut in the head and received medical treatment after he was struck by a beer bottle that was thrown at him.
“These are the type of individuals that we’re facing. Throwing beer bottles at police officers. Shooting right down the road. There were blue lights up and down the road as these shootings took place. The blatant disregard for public safety that these individuals are having will not be tolerated,” the Panama City chief said.
The law enforcement spokespeople said Sunday they believed those detained and found with weapons weren’t representative of most spring break tourists, but rather were people taking advantage of the crowds to commit crimes.
“This was not spring breakers, so trust me when I tell you, this is just a bad element of people who did this,” said Mayor Mark Sheldon. “If you want to come here and be a bad person, you picked the wrong place. Panama City Beach is a family destination, and that’s not going to change.”