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Village Fair experiences fights among local teens

By Lisa Brody

There were significant incidents involving teens fighting at this year's Village Fair in downtown Birmingham on May 30 and June 1, including a major fight at Henrietta and W. Maple involving teens from local high schools Brother Rice and Seaholm.

Downtown Newsmagazine received a tip about a beatdown which occurred on Saturday, June 1, at Henrietta and W. Maple, between a large group of teens and on Tuesday, June 4, sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Birmingham Police for information, receiving a 70-page, heavily redacted packet of incidents reports this week. Although in some instances suspects and victims names were mentioned, in many cases they were not because they are minors. Because they may be minors, and they have not yet been charged, the policy of Downtown is to not name anyone involved.

At 10:13 p.m., according to the police report, dispatch received a call of disorderly conduct/simple assault and battery at Henrietta and W. Maple. At the same time, an officer on foot in the area was approached by a teen who told the officer that his friend was just beat up. The officer said teen was receiving care from the Birmingham Fire Department for severe injuries.

The officer spoke with three males on scene who said there was first a verbal altercation before a fight broke out. The three told police they were unsure who the suspects were but said there had been a previous incident a few months ago with the suspects trying to fight them. At that time, the victims said, they were making fun of someone and the suspects thought they were making fun of a friend of theirs with the same name who had recently passed away.

According to the police report, the officer was shown the video of what had just occurred, noting that the suspects approached the victims and “began to get confrontational. XXX (the individual receiving care for severe injuries) stood between both parties and attempted to diffuse the situation. You can then see XXX get sucker punched…, punched multiple times by… then punched and kicked while on the ground.”

Birmingham police simultaneously received multiple other videos of the same event and many tips of who the suspects were believed to be. Police subsequently followed up the following day by going to one of the suspect's home, where while knocking, one officer “observed (the suspect) get off the couch and go elsewhere in the house.” He subsequently spoke to the officer over the phone. While much of the report is redacted, he and his attorney came in to the police station to speak to the officer, stating he was at the other side of the fair at the time of the incident. The officer explained the incident had been captured on video.

The police report stated that “based on the above documented circumstances, that (the victim) was attacked by multiple assailants, and continued to be assaulted after falling to the ground, backing away from attackers, and being struck while lying defenseless on the ground, a requested charge of aggravated assault will be sought for” suspect 1, suspect 2 and suspect 3.

According to unconfirmed sources, at least one of the suspects, who is a student of Brother Rice High School, may have been expelled from the school. Calls to Brother Rice President Tom Reedy were not returned; principal Edward Okuniewski is out of the country, and his assistant, who did not deny the expulsions, was not certain who could comment on the incidents.

There was another incident earlier that same weekend at the Village Fair, at about 9 p.m. Friday, May 31. While walking on patrol around Shain Park, two Birmingham police officers were approached and told there was a fight going on near the screamer ride involving a young man wearing a red hoodie. The officers approached the teen wearing the red hoodie who stated he was standing in line to get on the screamer with this friends when an individual walked up to him, grabbed him by his hoodie and wouldn't let go. He said the aggressor then began to hit him with his fist. Police asked the teen if he hit back, and he responded, “I had to defend myself.”

When asked if he knew his assailant, he identified him by name. Juveniles surrounding him said they were witnesses and saw what happened, and confirmed the fight. The victim had a red mark on the left side of his face above his cheek and small cut above his upper right lip.

Police approached the suspect who denied he was involved and initially refused to provide his driver's license. He later acknowledged he was involved but would not state why, and said he was sorry. Eventually, both teens “hugged it out” and agreed to leave the fair. Parents did not want charges pursued.

The Village Fair, which just concluded its 59th year May 30-June 2, is run by the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce in and around Birmingham's Shain Park. Joe Bauman, president of the Chamber, said besides the Village Fair being a major fundraiser for the chamber, local nonprofits also benefit, receiving about $20,000 in total from fair proceeds.

Bauman said Birmingham's police and fire departments are consulted and “determine what resources are needed to protect the community” and then bill the chamber in advance of the annual event. This year the chamber paid $12,460 for police protection, which includes drone surveillance of the event, and $6,500 for fire protection. He said that at any time there were eight to 14 officers on duty at the Village Fair, especially in the evenings.

Although an analysis meeting is held after each Village Fair involving the city DPW, police and fire departments and the chamber of commerce, the session for this year has yet to be scheduled. The sessions are held, Bauman said, to review any problems and suggestions for changes for the future because the chamber “wants to be great neighbors,” and is concerned about the well being of the community.

Bauman also noted that their contract with North American Midway, the fair operators, expired with the 2024 fair, and the chamber will be negotiating a new five-year contract. Even prior to this year's violent incidents, Bauman had been considering adjusting the Friday and Saturday hours to close the fair at 10 p.m., rather than at 11 p.m.

The Birmingham Village Fair is not the only fair in recent years to encounter disturbances. This year, Berkley Days cut short its Saturday night carnival hours for the second year in a row due to unruly behavior by groups of teenagers. This year, its 98th, the event closed at 7 p.m. Orchard Lake St. Mary's Polish Country Fair, which initially closed for the pandemic, has stayed closed due to violence and threats made on social media.


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