How Spring Break Debauchery Turned to Violence and a South Beach Crackdown
Spring breakers on Miami Beach
Photo by George Martinez
Guadalupe Ortiz walked out of the Ocean Drive hotel where she works into a warm March evening on the iconic beachfront stretch. After years of living and working in South Beach, Ortiz has seen her fair share of drunken debauchery: spring break, Memorial Day weekend, run-of-the-mill Friday nights. But the scene she watched unfold that evening was "unprecedented," Ortiz says. As the sun died in the west, a mob grew on the beachfront.
It was around 6:45 p.m. last Friday, and 4,000 sunburned, drunk, and unruly spring breakers in bikinis and neon T-shirts had taken over the streets. Traffic wasn't moving. Police didn't have backup and were afraid to intervene. And then, it all hit the fan.
Pinpointing the start of a near-riot is never easy, but it might have begun when a group of people crowded the streets at Ocean Drive and Eighth Street and refused to move. When police asked one defiant man in particular to clear the roadway, a 20-year-old Michigan tourist, Kayln Hunt, began yelling for police to leave her alone. And when officers had to escort her away, the crowd began surrounding the cops. Ignoring orders to leave the area, 21-year-old Davion Lajuane Phillips, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, grabbed an officer and pulled him toward some bushes, sending them tumbling to the ground. Another tourist, Marcus Allen Whittaker, also a 21-year-old from Kalamazoo, jumped onto the back of another cop and punched the left side of his head.
Nearby, girls in bikinis danced atop a black-and-yellow Can-Am Spyder three-wheeled motorcycle. The driver, a 33-year-old Chicagoan named Cariell Martin, ignored pleas from police to turn off his music and clear the roadway. As the music blasted, a rowdy crowd began dancing in the street even as officers tumbled with drunks in a fistfight nearby.
By 7 p.m., a citywide emergency backup had gone into effect. City of Miami Police were called in to help the Beach officers, but the request was canceled after cops stationed in North Beach and Mid-Beach arrived on scene. Soon officers shut down the street and began forcing everyone to leave. Ortiz watched it all, stunned.
"It was a freak show," Ortiz says. "It's a bad message to send to the world that Miami Beach has no control over these crowds."
South Beach is no stranger to spring break craziness, but 2016's partying has been different. By the time everyone sobered up Monday, more than 50 people had been arrested and one 20-year-old had been shot dead amid the Ocean Drive revelry. City leaders responded with an emergency memorandum, increasing police staffing, closing off Ocean Drive to nighttime traffic, and calling for an evacuation of the beach at sundown.
To better understand just how this year's spring break devolved into Mad Max-esque anarchy, New Times reviewed arrest reports from the 52 South Beach partiers arrested from Friday through Sunday. They were booked for crimes ranging from drug sales to battery to inciting a riot. A whopping 18 people were charged with disorderly conduct or disorderly intoxication.
Here's how it all went down:
Friday, 1:17 a.m.
Location: Outside frozen daiquiri bar Wet Willie's
Security guards flagged down police and pointed out two women who skipped out on their bar tabs after one of their credit cards was declined. Perhaps feeling remorse, one of the women returned, paying the bouncer the full tab in cash. Both were booted from the property, but for some reason, one of them, 22-year-old Chelsea Paige, returned to the bar minutes later and refused to leave. Paige, a student from San Diego, gave police some sketchy biographical information, leading officers to call her father. At the jail, she continued to have zero chill. Paige tried to escape and had to be restrained in a chair with seat belts, according to an arrest report. She was charged with trespassing, resisting an officer, battery on an officer, and escape.
Friday, 3 p.m.
Location: Outside a Wells Fargo branch on Washington Avenue
Reports say Jose Miguel Tapizquent Herrera, a 19-year-old student from Miami, was driving a blue Volkswagen Bug when he backed into a parked car in the parking lot. When police arrived to take a report, he told them with slurred speech that he probably shouldn't be driving because he was drunk. He was arrested for driving under the influence.
Friday, beginning around 5:50 p.m.
Location: Eighth Street and Ocean Drive
Chaos erupted as beach partiers poured onto Ocean Drive. As police tried to disperse the crowd, some began chanting, "Fuck the police!" Eric Anthony Perry, a 21-year-old from Detroit, threw a drink at one of the officers, prompting others to throw things at police. Perry was arrested for inciting a riot, while at least six others were booked for charges ranging from disorderly conduct to resisting an officer with violence.
Soon afterward, police shut down Ocean Drive and essentially killed the party Friday night. That was just the beginning of the weekend. Police braced for worse Saturday. And that's exactly what happened.
Photo by George Martinez
Saturday, 1:35 a.m.
Location: Frozen drink bar Fat Tuesday's
Two teenagers, 17 and 19 years old, began brawling. While police tried to break up the fight between Brianna Monique Gayle and Destiny Dalpe, another customer, 24-year-old Patrick Bitho Talante, threw a cup of booze at the crowd. All three were arrested for disorderly conduct.
Saturday, 4:12 a.m.
Location: A yellow curb on the 900 block of Ocean Drive
Police told Braxon Montel Brown, a student from Houston, that he needed to move his 2015 black Mercedes SUV because it was blocking a fire hydrant. But 22-year-old Brown had important business: He told them he would be just a minute, because he was trying to get a girl's number. It wasn't a problem — this officer was no cock block. He simply told Brown to make it snappy. Unenthusiastic about his free pass, though, Brown then refused to move the car, saying he'd do it "at [his] own time." Two of his friends became irritated, shouting that the police should go harass someone else and refusing to back away from the officers. All three were arrested on charges ranging from failure to obey an officer to resisting arrest.
Saturday, 8:03 p.m.
Location: The same curb on the 900 block of Ocean Drive
Police watched as a large crowd formed in the middle of the street. Revelers began jumping on top of the hoods and trunks of passing cars. When the officers told everyone to cool it, a 19-year-old student from Orlando emerged from the crowd. Reports say Joseph Abraham Merced used a racial slur and told officers: "Get the fuck outta my face." He was arrested for disorderly conduct.
Saturday, 8:58 p.m.
Location: An unidentified restaurant near Fifth Street and Ocean Drive
A business owner flagged down a cop and told him there was a huge problem: A drunk man had peed all over the outdoor chairs and tables and was now exposing himself to customers while walking down the sidewalk in his underwear. Police found 40-year-old Alex Mendez yelling at spring breakers and about to cause a fight. The Miami resident was booked for disorderly intoxication.
Saturday, 9:45 p.m.
Location: Inside a car on, you guessed it, the 900 block of Ocean Drive
With his driver's door ajar, a 20-year-old student from Salt Lake City with bloodshot eyes and slurred speech saw an officer and asked if the policeman wouldn't mind taking his picture. The officer politely said he was kind of in the middle of, ya know, policing and didn't have time. But Homar Velazques wasn't having that. He cursed at the officer, telling him he was "being a little dick." Velazques' South Beach weekend swiftly ended with an arrest for disorderly intoxication and a night at the Miami Beach holding facility.
Sunday, around 12:40 a.m.
Location: Again, 900 block of Ocean Drive
Antoinne Decade, a 20-year-old Miamian out celebrating his older brother's birthday, found himself in the middle of a fistfight. As horrified partiers looked on, someone shot Decade in the chest. In seconds, police nearby ran to his side as the shooter disappeared into the crowd, but Decade died at the hospital. Around the same time, shots rang out a few blocks away, on the 700 block of Ocean Court. No one was hurt in that gunfire. Decade's killer has yet to be arrested.
Sunday, 10:18 a.m.
Location: South Pointe Park Pier
Witnesses called to report a homeless man in a red shirt and black pants masturbating in public. When police arrived, 73-year-old Eduardo Rivero was still going at it. The Miami man was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior.
Sunday, 12:25 p.m.
Location: The boardwalk at 21st Street and Collins Avenue
An opportunistic 42-year-old Hollywood man named Edgar Onyekwere was selling coconuts with straws to tourists when a police officer walked by. They cost only $5 each, and Onyekwere offered one to the officer. But it was a trap! Onyekwere was arrested for conducting business without a license. The officer wrote his report as if he'd just busted up a world-class drug dealer ("I handed the defendant a $5 bill marked with a star in the lower righthand corner...").
Sunday, 7:51 p.m.
Location: An electrical outlet at Ocean's Ten
Vincent Wade Fisher, a drunk college kid from Sandy Springs, Georgia, was trying to charge his phone at the restaurant. He wasn't a customer, though, so management asked him to leave. He refused. It got so bad that an officer blocked the doorway with his arms, but the 23-year-old swatted at them. Fisher really needed that iPhone juice. Police arrested him for disorderly conduct, trespassing, resisting an officer, and battery on an officer.
Sunday, 10:26 p.m.
Location: Eighth Street and Ocean Drive
As the weekend wound down and every Miami Beach officer probably contemplated an easy career like coal mining, 20-year-old Fabricio Jose Aburto was arrested in the most Miami way: for grabbing a girl's booty near Eighth Street and Ocean Drive. Unfortunately for Aburto, she wasn't into it, and he was arrested for battery. While booking him at the jail, correctional officers found the pot he thought he had hidden pretty well inside his sock.
Try again next year, spring breakers.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.