Volusia sheriff, DeLand police address accusations of racism after massive gathering, arrests

Sheriff says DeLand gathering was ‘embarrassment’ for Volusia County

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood told reporters Monday that the large gathering of people Saturday in Deland was dangerous and senseless.

Investigators said residents threw jars and glasses at deputies. A man was shot and two convicted felons were arrested after seen passing a loaded gun in the large crowd. One man was seen on video trying to run away before he was caught.

Officials said the party was chaotic with more than 3,000 people out near Delaware Avenue and that someone could have been killed.

“This was an embarrassment. Our community was embarrassed, nationally by what occurred,” Chitwood said.

Deland police said more arrests may be on the way.

“A deputy got a rifle pointed at him and that’s when I think the whole dynamic changed,” Deland Police Chief Jason Umberger said.

Authorities said many people who were at the block party came from Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Chitwood told reporters he wants to be clear that despite accusations of racism, the behavior by law enforcement at the block party was anything but.

“I think to raise the race card around is a coward’s way of saying this was out of control, this was an embarrassment,” said Chitwood.

However, a few residents who were at the block party told News 6 they just can’t relate to the officers.

“Y’all don’t need to walk through every time we have an event harassing us and just being rude to us,” Deland resident Lanesha Smokes said.

“They point out the blacks. All the stuff that’s going on bad,” Deland resident Laceta Goosby said.

Umberger said he’s been working to better bridge the gap between police and the community. He said it’s been tough trying to find African American officers.

He said his office is working to meet with the NAACP and pastors in the area soon to try and find a way to better bridge the gap.

“These block parties are going to continue to happen, but how they continue in the future is what we need to talk about, how do we make a difference so it works for them because you need an outlet in the community,” said city councilwoman Barbara Girtman, who is also with the NAACP in Volusia County.

Authorities said there were no permits for Saturday’s block party.

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