A Valentine’s night melee involving about 200 youths at a Riverside amusement park may have been triggered by a clash between gang members, authorities said Tuesday.
Three police officers who were attacked during the incident at the Castle Park amusement center near the Riverside Freeway were briefly hospitalized with minor injuries, Riverside police Sgt. Phil Fernandez said.
Three youths were arrested on suspicion of battery on a peace officer, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. The fighting prompted the park’s closure Monday night, ending a discounted Valentine’s Day promotional event that drew more than 2,500 people.
“If this ends up being a gang-related, race-related incident, it would be the first one we’ve had on the west side of the city,” said Sgt. Frank Assumma of the department’s gang unit, referring to black and Latino gangs.
After the melee, police asked Castle Park officials to provide a warning when large gatherings are expected.
Rolf Paegert, the park’s general manager, said he plans to increase the park’s security, either by hiring more personnel or by requesting police presence.
Paegert said he did not alert police to the throng expected to attend the park’s "$5 for all rides” Valentine’s Day promotion. The normal ticket price is $19.99, Paegert said.
Three Castle Park security officers were on duty Monday when fighting began near open space next to the park’s Big Top ride.
Riverside police were summoned, and the first eight police officers who arrived were quickly surrounded by a large group of youths, who disregarded orders to disperse and then skirmished with the officers, authorities said.
After the attack, additional officers from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol responded.
“This was the size of a weekend crowd, and we did our normal [security] planning based off past history,” Paegert said. “There was no reason to anticipate anything different from our typical weekend day, but what happened was a group of individuals came looking for trouble. They could’ve gone anywhere else in the city. But they came here.”
The fighting spilled over to a nearby fast-food restaurant; police also responded to reports of fights at the nearby Galleria at Tyler shopping mall.