Hemet protests turn violent

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Protestors stand in a Hemet intersection after breaking into the Hemet Valley Mall Sunday, May 31. Valley News/Public Safety Incidents Robert Carter photo

A group of protestors chanting “black lives matter” took to the streets in Hemet, marching down Florida Avenue to make their voices heard regarding police brutality and the killing of a black man by a police officer in Minnesota, Sunday, May 31. 

Members of the Riverside County Sheriffs Department in full riot gear arrive at the Hemet Valley Mall aboard one of the department’s tactical vehicles after protestors broke into the mall Sunday, May 31. Valley News/Public Safety Incidents Robert Carter photo

As the evening wore on, the group, which had shrunk from about 250 protestors to less than 100, became violent, breaking into the Hemet Valley Mall. The protest which began around 4 p.m. in front of the mall had been peaceful up until that point.

At the start of the protest about 250 protestors had gathered to protest the killing of a black man by a police officer in Minnesota.

Initially the protest was peaceful, according to Valley News reporter Tony Ault, who was on the scene observing.

Some of the protestors threw rocks and other items eventually smashing through glass doors, according to several videos posted on social media.

The protestors entered the mall before being chased out by Hemet Police, some carrying items in their arms as they fled the scene.

Shattered glass from the front door at Hemet Valley Mall litters the sidewalk after protestors broke into the mall Sunday, May 31. Valley News/Public Safety Incidents Robert Carter photo

One protestor was arrested by Hemet Police officers wearing riot gear at the end of one video posted by George Evans Jr., on the Hemet Eye News Facebook page.

In another video posted by Robert Carter on the Public Safety Incidents Facebook page showed officers from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department assisting Hemet Police immediately following the incident.

Carter said that it appeared that J.C. Penny’s had been broken into.

According to Ault, who returned to the scene after the break-in occurred, officers, who actually outnumbered the protestors were prepared for a skirmish should one occur.

Protesters in Hemet confront officers in front of Sprouts grocery store after breaking into the Hemet Valley Mall Sunday, May 31. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

“There was more bark from the protestors than bite,” Ault said, adding that the group of about 50 protestors were yelling at the officers.

As of 11 p.m., Ault said the police and sheriffs remained out in force.

“There was no move to break up the protestors, though some at that time were starting to go home,” he said.

At 11:45 p.m. when four protestors refused to go home after being asked by officers to disperse, police set off a flashbang near the mall in an attempt to force the remaining protestors to go home as the group of officers fanned out and marched down Florida Avenue, clearing the streets of any remaining protestors.

Protestors gather in front of the Hemet Valley Mall Sunday, May 31. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

The group was protesting the Monday, May 25, death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man whose death was caught in a viral video showing 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing a knee on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for air during an arrest. 

As onlookers begged for the officer to back down, Chauvin continued pinning Floyd for over eight minutes until he became unresponsive, the video shows.

Chauvin and three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department Tuesday, May 26. On Friday, Chauvin was arrested. He has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

People hold up signs protesting against police brutality in front of the Hemet Valley Mall Sunday, May 31. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Protests against police brutality have sprung up across the country, including in Temecula and Menifee in response to the killing. Looting and rioting occurred in major metropolitan cities. 

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Tony Ault and Jeff Pack contributed to this story.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.