April 20, 2010
It was supposed to be a peaceful vigil for Jason Panzino, the 14-year-old boy found dead over the weekend. However, the event at Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park quickly turned into something much different on Monday evening.
Vigil Attendee Chris Lunsford says, "It was fine until the cops showed up... Then people just starting going ballistic, people were hysterical, people were running around crying and screaming...Just angry."
Lunsford was one of many students that watched as officers did all they could to control what they say became a disruptive situation.
Lunsford adds, "They were telling us to get out of the park and telling us if we didn't get out then we would get bitten. They had this K9 dog chasing people up the hill and stuff."
Sgt. Chad Kauffman of the Staunton Police Department was one of the first officers on the scene. He says they were called to the vigil after a resident trying to get through the park was blocked by some of the kids.
"Several people were given multiple chances to leave the area. It became necessary to take a few of them into custody because they just wouldn't leave," Kauffman says.
When officers arrived, they say some of the kids got more and more rowdy and many refused to cooperate with officers. However, Lunsford say officers used unnecessary force.
"A really close friend of mine and his sister, they threw her in the car head first...And she is only 15 years old," Lunsford says.
Kauffman stands behind the department's actions, and he says it was never their intention to break up the vigil.
"We did what was necessary," Kauffman says, "Our goal is to prevent anyone from getting hurt. In a situation such as this, we have to look at the potential for violence and mitigate that as soon as we can."
Three juveniles and two adults were arrested including Jason Panzino's older brother John, whom reportedly kicked out a police car window. Some of the charges include assault on a police officer and failure to leave an unlawful assembly.