Panama City Beach, FL – Two Alabama gang members have been arrested in connection with the weekend of mass chaos that ensued after a mob of violent criminals descended on the popular beachside community of Panama City Beach late last month.
Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies worked together to quell the violence, arresting more than 160 people seizing at least 75 illegal guns in just two days beginning March 26.
Police leaders emphasized that the mob that descended on the city was not comprised of college students on spring break, despite countless media assertions to the contrary.
They classified them as “criminals,” more than half of whom came to the city from Alabama.
Police announced on Thursday that two known gang members, 25-year-old Rashad Glasper and 20-year-old Demarion Cooper, were arrested at their homes in Wetumpka, Alabama earlier that day on outstanding warrants for inciting or encouraging a riot, WJHG reported.
“They were seen with guns multiple times throughout the weekend, both on surveillance video and by eye-witnesses,” Panama City Beach Police Chief J.R. Talamantez noted.
“Their posts on social media incited a lot of the activity that we saw during the weekend,” Chief Talamantez told WJHG. “For instance, Mr. Cooper in the height of all the criminal activity that we saw, posted something to the effect of ‘mask up, glove up, let’s burn this place down.’ If that does not seem like it’s encouraging destruction, I don’t know what is.”
Police said Cooper, Glasper, and their cohorts came to the beachside community with the sole intention of wreaking havoc and shutting down the city.
They said the two known gang members “played a substantial role in promoting and influencing” their followers on social media to travel to Panama City Beach to take part in an unsanctioned, chaotic event dubbed, “Panamaniac,” the Panama City News Herald reported.
“These are not the type of people we want visiting Panama City Beach,” Chief Talamantez said, according to WJGH. “I think everybody could agree. We want people to play with sand castles and sand buckets, not semi-automatic weapons.”
Glasper was being held in an Alabama jail Thursday awaiting extradition to Panama City Beach.
Cooper has already been transported to the Bay County Jail.
“They won a prize, and that’s a trip to jail,” Chief Talamantez said, according to the Panama City News Herald. “You play stupid games, you get stupid prizes.”
Police said the investigation into the chaotic weekend is ongoing and that more arrests are expected, WJGH reported.
Traffic was gridlocked and multiple businesses closed up shop over the weekend of March 26 as the riotous group tore through the town, WBMM reported.
A frenzy of social media posts from concerned residents and visitors soon followed, to include complaints of people jumping on cars and causing chaos in local businesses.
Pedestrians struggled to get down the sidewalks due to the densely-packed throngs of people.
“We were getting run over by people,” visitor Ladariya Gurley told WBBM. “They were pushing us.”
One clip from inside a Walmart showed a rowdy crowd of people trashing the store and throwing merchandise throughout the aisles.
Police shut down a two-mile stretch of Front Beach Road beginning at approximately 9 p.m. on March 26, according to FOX News.
Gunfire broke out at a Waffle House on Front Beach Road on March 27, the Panama City News Herald reported.
A 21-year-old Alabama man suffered a gunshot wound to his foot, according to police.
During another incident, a police officer suffered a cut to his head after someone hit him with a beer bottle, WBBM reported.
Another officer was bitten by a member of the mob, according to WJHG.
“I personally encountered an individual holding an AR-15 who is now in custody,” Chief Talamantez said during a press conference on March 28, according to WBBM. “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.”
A vast majority of the group had either left town or was in jail by the end of the weekend, according to police.
Chief Talamantez, Panama City Police Department (PCPD) Chief Mark Smith, Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford and a contingent of area law enforcement officials held a press conference on March 28 to discuss the mayhem, the Panama City News Herald reported.
A sprawling display of seized firearms could be seen on tables in front of the law enforcement leaders as they addressed the media.
“These guns were taken over a period of two days,” Chief Talamantez told reporters. “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.”
Chief Talamantez called the mob “pathetic cowards” who hid behind firearms while they terrorized others.
Sheriff Ford credited the unified front established by local law enforcement agencies for preventing any tragedies from occurring.
“We were faced with dangerous circumstances but stood firm in protecting our county,” Sheriff Ford said. “Each one of these 75 firearms…represents a violent encounter with law enforcement, and I’m so proud of the law enforcement officers who stood in that gap (between) citizens and the criminals who were carrying these guns.”
“Every time one of our brave officers confronted these 75 individuals (who had the guns), it was an opportunity for that brave officer to have lost (their) life or been forced to take someone else’s life,” Chief Smith added, according to the Panama City News Herald. “This is not what Bay County is about, (and) not what Panama City Beach is about.”
Police said had been monitoring social media and preparing for the potential surge in violence for weeks.
Seventy-eight of those arrested were from Alabama.
“If they come from Alabama and they’re going to commit a crime with a gun, they may very well be our guests for 10 years,” Sheriff Ford told WSFA.
“If you come here to act like a criminal, we’ll treat you like one,” he added.
The sheriff said the crowd was part of the “PCB Takeover,” which had been promoted on social media for weeks, WVTM reported.
Chief Talamantez said he knows local residents are frustrated and tired of the mayhem.
“Trust me, we are frustrated too,” he said during the press conference on March 28. “The harsh reality is we cannot control who comes to town. But what we can control is what happens to you if you commit a crime in this town. We will hold you accountable.”