Investigation underway after brawl breaks out at Norristown church carnival

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (WPVI) -- An investigation is underway in Norristown after police responded to a fight involving more than 50 kids at a church carnival.

Organizers of the annual Saint Francis Carnival in Norristown are still shaken by the images of a violent altercation that took place on Saturday night on church grounds.

"The events in the video are very disturbing and upsetting," Rev. James E. Goerner, Pastor St. Francis Assisi Parish.

The Norristown Police Department said it happened at around 8:30 Saturday evening, the fourth and final day of the event. A fight broke out between a group of teens and it quickly devolved into chaos with more kids getting involved.

The video shows police arriving and one officer putting a teen girl in what her mother describes as a chokehold, while another teen starts punching that officer in the face. Shortly after, another officer pulls out pepper spray to disperse the crowd. The video doesn't show that he actually used it.

EMBED More News Videos

Large fight breaks out at Norristown church carnival. Trish Hartman has more on Action News at 11 p.m. on May 12, 2019.

Less than 24 hours after the incident, Police Chief Mark Talbot held a community forum to address concerns from parents and community members about a number of issues including the officer's use of force.

Talbot said an investigation is underway to see if the actions of the officers involved were justified.

He said the incident started as a fight between some juveniles at the St. Francis carnival Saturday around 8:30 p.m.

Talbot said some of the juveniles were being aggressive and his officers had to ask for backup from other departments.

The mother of the girl who can be seen in the video being restrained, Alisha Bates, was at the meeting. She wants disciplinary action taken against the officer.

"They literally did not think she had much longer, that's how bad she was being choked," said Bates.

Talbot wouldn't say how many people were taken into custody or comment on any injuries.

He said the officers had to call for backup from other departments and said it will take some time to sort out if the officers' actions were justified.

"We have a lot of people there that from what we hear were out of control. The officers were thrown into an environment in which they were tasked with dealing with something extremely difficult and they dealt with it. It's up to people like me - after the fact - to figure out if they did the right thing," said Talbot.

EMBED More News Videos

Large fight breaks out at Norristown church carnival: as seen on Action News at 4 a.m., May 13, 2019

Reverend Goerner says for more than 25 years the event had gone on without incident. They are now considering some changes including beefing up security, but they're not ruling out abandoning the event entirely.

"It's going to be something we are going to have to look at moving forward if we are going to continue to have the event," said Rev. Goerner.

Many people called for the officers to be placed on desk duty while the investigation is underway.

"These officers should not be able to be still patrolling the streets. I don't think it's safe for our community. I honestly don't believe that it's safe for the officers to be roaming the community after such a heightened situation," said Tanesha Webb.

Norristown police would like to speak with witnesses who may have info about what happened Saturday night.
Copyright © 2019 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.