Scottsdale resident Amy Armenta

Scottsdale resident Amy Armenta and her family showed up early on May 31 to help clean up glass and debris from the Scottsdale Fashion Square riot.

Just a few hours after a riot rocked Scottsdale Fashion Square and the surrounding area, dozens of Valley residents showed up in force to pick up the pieces and spread a message of community solidarity.

“It was an awful thing to see that everyone decided to do this and me and my family thought ‘why don’t we just help clean up’ because we live here and we don’t want this place to be trashed,” said Jeremy Armenta, a high school student and Scottsdale resident.

He and his family swept up glass Sunday, May 31, beneath the Nordstrom’s underpass.

“I just wanted them to see that there’s consequences for everyone’s actions, and to see that there’s good, too,” said his mother Amy Armenta.

Scottsdale residents were not the only ones who showed up to aid in the cleanup effort from Nordstrom’s and other areas of the mall to adjacent shops at the Waterfront and the east side of Scottsdale Road.

Mesa resident TJ Lindberg decided to drive down to help out.

“I think we’re all feeling fairly impotent right now, so this is something we can do to help,” he said. “Obviously, it’d be better if we could deal with the issues leading to this but it was amazing to see everyone out here helping out.”

According to a Scottsdale Police officer who was on the ground, anywhere between 500 and 700 people showed up the night before to a gathering, purportedly organized via social media posts earlier in the day.

The group was at first much smaller when it initially marched peacefully through the mall’s northern parking lot at 10 p.m.

“Are you all mad?” yelled an unidentified protest leader before the march through the mall parking lot began.

“We’re going to fight with our words,” he said. “They say this is private property; we’re going to make it public.”

Chants of “Justice for Floyd” and “Justice for Johnson” could be heard after the march started, alluding to the death of a black Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer and the fatal shooting of Dion Johnson after a purported struggle with a state Department of Public Safety officer.

The protest quickly gave way to a riot that engulfed the mall and surrounding area for hours.

Scottsdale Police reported “millions” in damages to the mall and area businesses.

While at least some participants were protesting against police brutality and the treatment of African Americans, many others appeared more focused on stealing.

The social media post circulated to organize the event seemed to express a desire to impact a largely white, affluent community like Scottsdale.

“They need to hear our cry; they need to listen,” the post stated.

“I don’t care whether you are rioting or peacefully protest,” it continued. 

But others in attendance talked openly about a desire to steal.

“This whole bag is full… and I broke into the cash register,” said one man as he emerged from a broken window at Urban Outfitters.

Scottsdale Police said in a statement, “While some may have indeed come to join what they believed would be a peaceful protest, what occurred was neither peaceful, nor a protest. It was a riot that saw several dozens of individuals collectively damaging property at and near the mall, breaking into businesses and stealing the interiors.”

The department made 12 arrests and no officers were injured.

The department recovered $46,000 in stolen property on June 3 when it made eight additional arrests, including a Valley couple that was using a Scottsdale vacation rental “as a staging location for their criminal activity,” police said.

About 20 minutes after the protest began, a crowd began walking down the center of Goldwater Avenue and Camelback Road, breaking windows under the Nordstrom’s underpass.

After the stealing began, a police helicopter announced the department had declared it an unlawful gathering and threatened arrest but no arrests were made at the time.

Over the next two hours, people broke windows at the mall and stores and restaurants at the Waterfront across the street, including Crate & Barrel, Culinary Dropout, Tempurpedic, Urban Outfitters and others.

After many attempts, they broke into the Apple Store at the mall and then gained entrance to the mall itself.

Critics said police response was too slow and allowed for a significant amount of property damage to occur despite social media messages about the gathering circulating earlier in the day, leading the mall to shut down early at 5 p.m.

The entertainment district also shut down early with patrons seen leaving around 9:30 p.m.

But Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell defended the response, citing no deaths or serious injuries to officers or civilians.

“I want to make it clear: no one was injured last night,” Rodbell said. 

A private security guard employed by local news station 3TV was injured after being hit in the forehead by a rioter and the department deployed tear gas on the east side of the mall.

No other injuries were reported.

“At no time did we reject assistance,” Officer Kevin Watts said. “When the determination was made that additional resources were needed, we reached out to those agencies and those that could provided assistance.”

Scottsdale officers largely followed behind the action and did not engage with protestors.

The department said it requested help from other agencies as soon as it became apparent it had underestimated the number of people that would show up.

Both Lane and Rodbell said the lack of visibility early on may have been due to a decision to use available resources to block access to adjacent residential areas, including the nearby Optima apartments and residences at the Scottsdale Waterfront.

“It was a specific strategy to protect the general residential population from these groups as they were setting them off to potentially go off in the neighborhoods,” Lane said.

Scottsdale Police ultimately received assistance from Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, the Maricopa County Sheriff and the Department of Public Safety to contain the situation, which lasted into early Sunday. Based on social media, police anticipated about 50 people would attend a protest at the mall – the real number was closer to 500, Assistant Chief Scott Popp said. 

As soon as numbers began to swell, Popp said Scottsdale PD reached out to other departments for assistance but it was not immediately available due to resources deployed in Phoenix.

The department initially had 83 officers deployed, though that number ultimately reached around 250 when aid from other neighboring municipalities and the state arrived.

“I don’t think we were under prepared, but we used the resources we had…to address the people that were anticipated,” Popp said.

Local property owners organized a press conference for Saturday afternoon to express frustration with the department’s response.

Mayoral candidate and former Councilman Bob Littlefield chastised the city leadership on social media.

“Last night’s debacle at Fashion Square was unacceptable… I believe this is the consequence of the laid-back attitude toward public safety of the current City Council majority.”

Planning Commissioner Larry Kush, who lives near the mall, also chastised officers the next morning for failing to do more to protect the mall, and appeared to condone violence on the stealers.

“What happened to shooting stealers like the good old days?” Kush said.

Kush later softened his stance in a Facebook post after meeting with Rodbell, stating “I left the meeting in an entirely new attitude and renewed respect for our police department and for Chief Rodbell.”

The department defended its response, citing a desire to avoid putting peaceful protesters or residents at risk.

“Life safety was the number one priority. Thus, officers were not sent in to force a violent clash with criminal antagonists,” it said.

Several Scottsdale officers were already on site before the protest kicked off at 10 p.m. near the Dick’s Sporting Goods on the mall’s east end.

A handful of officers were in the parking lot standing between protestors and entrances to the mall and the sporting goods store.

As protesters marched past them, the officers warned that they should leave private property but did not make any attempt to stop what was then a peaceful procession.

Officers did not attempt to disperse protestors until around 11 p.m. – about 40 minutes after the vandalism began and after a dozen stores had already been vandalized.

Around 11 p.m., some individuals broke into the Apple Store and gained access to the main mall.

At that point, Scottsdale PD began marching towards the Apple Store shooting what appeared to be tear gas canisters to disperse crowds.

The department dispersed much of the large group at the Apple Store, though protestors remained throughout the area for several hours.

It is unclear how many stores were vandalized inside the mall as police are still refusing entry, referring to it as an active crime scene.

By the next morning, the damage was obvious, with glass littering the sidewalks all around the mall.

Most of the damage was in the area immediately adjacent to the mall, though there was some damage to windows at three businesses on or around the 5th Avenue shopping district to the south.