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December 23, 2011 at 5:53 AM

Fights and a crowd of 2,000 greet new Air Jordan at Southcenter mall

In a photo released by Nike Inc., the Air Jordan XI, released in 1996, is shown. Nike released the 23rd edition, and it is expected to be just as venerated as its predecessors. (AP Photo / Nike, Inc.)

Police used pepper spray to break up fights among shoe buyers who pushed and shoved outside the Westfield Southcenter mall to pick up some of the first Nike retro Air Jordans that went on sale early Friday morning. (KING5)

Police from across the Seattle area were called to Westfield Southcenter mall early this morning when a rowdy crowd of 2,000 showed up to buy the new Air Jordan XI, the newest version of the classic Nike shoe.

People got so out of hand police used pepper spray in some instances in an attempt to get things under control.

Tukwila police were woefully understaffed and didn’t anticipate the crowd, said Tukwila police Officer Mike Murphy. The officers at the mall called in their entire night shift staff, as well as officers from Seattle, Kent, Renton, Des Moines and the King County Sheriff’s Office, said Murphy.

When two off-duty Tukwila officers, hired by the mall to deal with the shoe’s release at four different stores, arrived at Southcenter at 3 a.m. the crowds were manageable, Murphy said. Within two hours, however, the number of hopeful buyers swelled to nearly 2,000. People there for the shoe release were cutting in line, pushing, fighting, drinking and smoking marijuana, Murphy said.

In describing the scene, shopper Charles Wilby  told our news partner KING5:

They (police) just moved everyone to one single line, so they are pretty upset. Everyone is fighting over the shoes, arguing and stuff.

Tawnni Merlino, who was in the crowd, told KING5:

It was just crazy, with people and commotion, all the police showing up and pepper spraying.

“We used pepper spray on some of the fights to disrupt the crowds,” Murphy said. “This was not a pro-police crowd. The crowd was less than cooperative with instructions from police to quit fighting and to quit cutting.”

Only one person was arrested in the melee; a man who punched an officer in the face. Murphy said that he personally ejected a man from the mall for flashing gang signs. The man, he said, was close to the front of the line at one of the stores.

“When you get into a riot situation your goal is not to make arrests. Your goal is to to stop the violence and stop people from being jerks,” Murphy said.

The stores at the mall selling the shoe were Champs Sports, Foot Locker, Shiekh Shoes and Nordstrom. Police said most of the fights and trouble stemmed from lines outside Champs and Foot Locker, since they opened up early, at 4 a.m.,  to sell the $180 shoe, Murphy said.

Seattle police spokesman Mark Jamieson said that about 100 people showed up at Northgate Mall this morning for the shoe’s release. Mall security called for police back-up after people in line started pushing and shoving. No arrests were made, Jamieson said.

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Air Jordans, fights, pepper spray

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