Trumbull officials move to quell mall incidents after multiple fights, arrests

TRUMBULL — Town officials are working with police and mall representatives to address the recent incidents of criminal activity at the Trumbull Mall.

Police have been called to the mall numerous times over the past few weeks for reports of youth fights and, in an incident last week, concerns over a person carrying a hatchet.

First Selectman Vicki Tesoro said she and Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo met with mall officials Friday and called the meeting productive. Tesoro has tried to assure residents that the recent incidents of fights and other disturbances do not mean the mall or town is any less safe.

“Trumbull residents can be assured that the safety of our community is not in jeopardy and will not be in the future,” said Tesoro in a Facebook post, adding that public safety is a top priority of her administration, but security at the mall remains a challenge.

The mall was recently sold by Westfield, which declined to comment, to Namdar for $196 million. Namdar did not respond to requests for comment.

Trumbull is not the only host community that has dealt with multiple disturbances and fights in a mall. Milford police in September responded to a series of incidents in one weekend, including multiple fights involving pepper spray.

And that same mall in past years has closed early due to fights where police have been called to the scene. Other malls have also been the site of disturbances, including a 2018 fight in which four people were arrested at The Shoppes at Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester after a fight involving hundreds of youth.

But while the recent spate of incidents at the mall have worried residents, who have expressed their concern on social media, the number of incidents is hard to pin down, according to the Trumbull Police Department.

Part of that, according to Trumbull Police Lt. Brian Weir, is based on the nature of how case logs are recorded. Police might show up to the mall for a report of one issue and then find a whole separate incident once they arrive, he said.

"You got to go case by case to figure out because for instance, the last case was documented on Jan. 14 of this year," said Trumbull Police Lt. Brian Weir. "There was one call that came in as an assault with a knife and then was closed out as a breach of peace. So I guess there were different fights down there. But we only had one case log on it. So the numbers are going to be skewed anyway."

In the Jan. 14 incident, officers were called to the Main Street shopping center around 5:30 p.m. due to multiple reports of a large fight, ultimately leading to the arrest of three teenage girls, according to Weir. 

Weir said officers arrested three teenagers — a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 15-year-old — for breach of peace after they refused to leave the mall and after they fought in the food court in the presence of shoppers.  

He added that the 15-year-old was also charged with assaulting an officer after fighting with police and spitting on a state police trooper who had been assisting with crowd control. All three girls were later released to their guardians. 

Tesoro added that Trumbull police officers found crowds of unarmed youth who continued to come back into the mall even after being expelled and called in mutual aid from area police departments and the State Police in order to restore order.  

The police union, which has argued the department is understaffed, in a statement on its Facebook page on Jan. 15 noted that for "the third weekend in a row, our ability to provide public safety was pushed to the breaking point."

The union noted the fights had extended to individuals fighting with and spitting at or on police officers who responded.

The following Monday, officers were again dispatched to the mall and a 15-year-old was charged with breach of peace and possession of a dangerous weapon after mall customers reported the teen was walking around holding an ax and threatening others, Weir said.

When officers apprehended the suspect at a nearby bus stop, they found a hatchet with a yellow and black handle concealed in his waistband, according to Weir. He was taken into custody without incident and no injuries were reported, Weir said. 

“Fights at the mall are not new,” Tesoro said. “Unfortunately, this has been happening for decades, not only at the Trumbull Mall but also at other area malls. However, that is no excuse for these events to continue." 

In their conversation with mall officials, Tesoro said topics covered included the mall increasing its interior security and making it more visible. She said Trumbull Police, which has always had a presence at the mall, is increasing its officers on site on weekends. She said Trumbull Police stepped up their presence on Saturday.

"We want people to feel safe to go to the mall ... it is our largest taxpayer and the largest employer in town," Tesoro said. "I believe the mall is a safe place to go. What happened the weekend before last is unfortunate and should not be tolerated. But this is nothing new. Police are always there to ensure the public safety."

She noted the key to ensuring the incidents do not continue is to focus on prevention efforts and "adequate" security.

Lombardo said the police department plans to staff more officers at the mall to act as a “visible deterrence for those who want to disrupt other shoppers." 

"It is incumbent on the new owners to ensure everyone’s safety," Tesoro said. "They certainly intend to do that by providing their own security and of course the town will continue to do what we have always done at the mall and that is to provide the necessary officers to also ensure public safety."