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'It's heart-wrenching;' Sioux Falls leaders decry violence following protest

 Police line attempts to disperse crowd at Empire Mall
Police line attempts to disperse crowd at Empire Mall (KSFY)
Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 12:34 PM CDT
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Sioux Falls city leaders are speaking out against violence that broke out Sunday night, saying it marred what had been a positive day of peaceful protests in the city.

Mayor Paul TenHaken and Chief of Police Matt Burns spoke on the events in a briefing Monday, saying the behavior seen that night will not be tolerated in the city.

Perpetrators believed to be mostly local, including many kids

A group of roughly 3,000 people gathered in downtown Sioux Falls Sunday evening for a planned protest over the death of George Floyd, who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

While the protest was peaceful, a portion of the group eventually made its way to the Empire Mall, where some protesters clashed with police and vandalized property.

"Sadly, after the sun set, the day deteriorated into lawlessness," TenHaken said.

Police established a barrier to keep the crowd away from the mall. TenHaken said a group of protesters joined police in attempting to keep the calm peaceful, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.

Burns said police are going through an extensive amount of surveillance video, and that police took pictures of license plates and suspects throughout the night.

"If you think you can riot, loot, steal, burglarize, and create property damage, and hurt others in this city with impunity, you are mistaken," Burns said. "We will hold you to account, we will find out who you are, through various resources, and we will do our job."

TenHaken said it was lucky that no one was seriously hurt Sunday night, as he held a rock he said was thrown at police. The rock, which was larger than his hand, weighed 5-7 pounds.

Investigators are still working to determine how many people from the incident were from out of town, but authorities believe a majority of those involved were local.

"These were mostly kids, and mostly that were raised here," TenHaken said. "I recognized kids on this video. I saw them wearing shirts of local sports leagues and local high schools."

TenHaken said a middle school teacher contacted the city, saying she recognizes several of her students on videos of crowds at the mall. He said the city has work to help these children, and he encouraged people to get involved in mentorship programs.

"Our city has failed these kids, and parents have failed their children," TenHaken said. "These kids should be ashamed, the rest of them should be embarrassed. It's heart-wrenching."

Burns said police were aware of reports of busses of organizers protesters coming down from Fargo, but he said they were unable to confirm these rumors. He said it appears at this time that those reports were a false flag, but he said police are still investigating.

Two people were arrested Monday night. Burns said one of them is from Omaha.

Burns added that police have heard rumors about more potential protests Monday night. He said while those reports have not been verified, he said police will be ready for anything.

Violence blemishes peaceful protest

Both TenHaken and Burns expressed dismay that the violence that broke out at the end of the night overshadowed what had been a constructive effort between the city and protest organizers.

"Yesterday may have been one of the darker days for the city of Sioux Falls," TenHaken said. "I'm sad for our city, I'm sad for those who feel marginalized and persecuted. I'm sad for those who have experienced hate and prejudice in this city. I'm sad for those who had property damage, and stolen last night. I'm also sad and disappointed for those that instigated and carried out the lawlessness last night."

TenHaken said the city can still be thankful that no one was seriously hurt, and that prior to the violence, the city had a peaceful protest to honor George Floyd.

Burns said he does not want the events that occurred at the mall and other areas to put a dark stain on the positive events from earlier in the evening.

"We represent every person in this city," Burns said. "We want every person in this city, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity, to understand that they can come to us with any problem, report any crime, and that we stand with them. I think that was on display early on, with our officers that were part of that crowd early on."

Burns asked that anyone who has video or other evidence from Sunday night's violence to submit it to police by calling Crime Stoppers at 367-7007.