Sarasota, FL – An off-duty Sarasota police officer was viciously attacked by a group of teens on Thursday afternoon, after he intervened while the youths were harassing and assaulting a homeless man.
The incident occurred just after 12 p.m., as the off-duty officer was jogging in Payne Park near the Sarasota Police Department (SPD), WWSB reported.
He came upon a group of approximately five teenagers who were pushing, harassing, and striking a homeless man, so he ordered them to stop and identified himself as an SPD officer, the department said in a press release.
The crew turned away from the homeless man, and instead attacked the officer, striking him multiple times.
“[He] came up trying to break it up, saying ‘Let’s not have this right here,’ then they kinda started ganging up on him, started beating him up,” witness Zach Farley told WTVT.
Then they ran off.
The officer suffered minor injuries as a result of the brazen attack, but the homeless man was not hurt, WTVT reported.
William Schlenger said that he and his brother, who are also homeless, know the man who the teens were picking on.
“He’s pretty peaceful and never had any issues with anybody, no altercations or anything,” Schlenger told WTVT. “So, we were kinda caught off-guard to hear that someone attacked him… it’s sad, you know, he’s down on his luck and definitely doesn’t need violence around, that’s for sure.”
Schlenger said he doubted that the teens should have even been at the park at that time of day.
“They probably should have been in school if they’re teenagers, so what are they doing out here attacking people?” he said.
Sarasota police flooded the park after the altercation, but the teens have not yet been located, according to WTSP.
“It’s not something that particularly happens here and it’s not something that happens to one [of] our own,” SPD Public Information Officer Genevieve Judge told the Herald-Tribune. “We’re looking for those responsible. We’re just glad the officer is OK.”