A new report by Scottsdale Police dispelled a rumor circulated by some locals, including a sitting city councilman, that the department told officers to “stand down” during the Scottsdale Fashion Square riot May 30-31.
But the report substantiates earlier reporting by the Progress indicating the department was underprepared for the sheer size of the riot.
“I was on the scene on May 30, 2020, and was the highest-ranking officer present, and I never gave a stand down order during the entire night/morning,” Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell wrote in a letter attached to the report.
The department prepared the report at the request of City Council after Councilman Guy Phillips suggested June 16 that a “stand down” order had been issued.
“Unfortunately, on May 30, there appeared to be a call during a publicized riot downtown for our officers to stand down,” Phillips said.
At the time, Mayor Jim Lane told the Progress he had no knowledge of a stand down order being issued to officers during the riot.
Phillips did not respond to a request for comment.
“In fact, NO stand down order was ever given,” Rodbell wrote, dispelling the rumor circulated mostly among business owners who saw it as an explanation for how hundreds of rioters could inflict millions of dollars in damage.
Lane said it he thought the report provides important insight to residents, many of whom were critical of the department’s response.
“I thought (the report) was reasonably well done as a display for the public of the kinds of things our Police Department faced that night,” Lane said.
The report does paint a picture of a department that was initially overmatched.
It says police were aware of social media posts calling for a riot at Fashion Square as early as 3 p.m. on May 30, seven hours before it started.
The department coordinated with Fashion Square to close the mall early May 30 and ramped up the number of officers stationed in the area that night.
According to the report, the department mobilized 84 officers to patrol the mall grounds – which covers 2.8 million square feet– with additional relief units on standby.
That is over three times the numbers officers on duty on typical night in District 2, which includes the mall.
The department’s intelligence unit had expected 45-55 people would show up but in reality, 500 to 700 participated at the height of the event.
The department blamed the false intelligence on the way the post calling for the riot was shared online.
Rather than simply sharing the original post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, supporters took a screenshot of it and shared it in a new post.
That made it difficult to track how many people had seen each post, the department said.
“The posts then appear to be totally independent and must be discovered on an individual basis. It is also important to mention that while we can perform keyword searches, these search functions do not work when dealing with images,” the report says.
Officers scrambled to defend the 2.8-million-square-foot mall property with 110 entrances and surrounding areas – many of which were still occupied by restaurant goers when the riot began – while they waited for reinforcements from other police departments.
Following the riot, the Progress reported that Scottsdale PD made efforts to protect occupied residential properties near the mall, including Optima and Scottsdale Waterfront, that were targeted by rioters.
Some officers also blocked off Southbridge to stop rioters from crossing onto 5th Avenue and the rest of downtown.
Keeping the riot out of those other areas was also a priority, according to Rodbell, to avoid potentially bloody conflicts with armed locals who showed up to defend property.
“Riots are simply uncontrolled energy masses. If you try to “push” it, it moves somewhere else with the same force,” Rodbell said.
“Moving the rioters would have been a huge mistake,” he said. “To the east, you had the Entertainment District, where armed citizens sat on rooftops to defend their property.”
The report also noted there were armed militia members in the 5th Avenue area.
NBC affiliate 12News reported there was one confrontation between a militia and rioters who entered 5th Avenue from Scottsdale Road.
According to the report, those rioters dispersed when the Scottsdale SWAT team arrived on scene.
Scottsdale Police Lt. Chris DiPiazza told local business owners that he stood between armed rioters and armed civilians defending a local jeweler on 5th Avenue to diffuse the situation.
Some locals asked why it took so long for the city to call for help.
But the report showed Scottsdale Police put out a call for help at 10 p.m. – right when the initial gathering began – to the state Department of Public Safety but that request was denied because it was already aiding Phoenix Police with protests.
Scottsdale PD did receive help from other East Valley police departments after a call at 10:13 p.m.
In response to Scottsdale’s call for assistance, the Sheriff’s Department and police departments in Chandler, Mesa and Tempe sent a total 126 officers throughout the night. DPS ultimately sent 10 troopers as well.
But those reinforcements did not show up until the event was already well out of hand.
The report shows that Mesa’s helicopter showed up at 10:35 p.m. and the first officer reinforcements did not show up until five Tempe officers arrived at 10:52 p.m.
But at that point, hundreds of rioters had already dispersed and had broken into the mall. A handful of businesses across the street were also looted by that time, including Mountainside Fitness, PF Chang's and Urban Outfitters.
The department did not call in the National Guard at that time because “not knowing their response time, training, policies, and tactics it was determined that the better course for action was to rely on sworn law enforcement officers from neighboring jurisdictions,” according to the report.
Before reinforcements arrived, a lieutenant on the scene recalled officers back to the mall site to regroup around 10:25 p.m.
“Officers were scattered while dealing with crowds on all sides of the mall,” the report states. “Rioter numbers in each of those locations had grown to a level that made these small deployment officer teams ineffective and jeopardized officer safety.
“The order to regroup was made to increase safety for all and to increase officer ability to interdict the rioters.”
Rodbell said these do not constitute stand-down orders.
“On several occasions unit supervisors (sergeants) and lieutenants may have given tactical direction to pull back and regroup for both officer and citizen safety reasons,” he wrote. “That is not a ‘stand down.’ I certainly support those decisions made in the moment and would not attempt to second guess those tactical decisions.”
The department did not fully secure the area until after 5 a.m. May 31 – seven hours after the riot started.
The department blamed the scale of the damage on “numerous atypical tactics being used by the rioters” that reduced the effectiveness of police efforts to get the situation under control.
Multiple times in the report, the department said the situation was well-coordinated and pre-planned, citing these tactics.
According to the report, these tactics included large groups confronting officers and then running away in multiple directions and armed rioters hiding within larger groups.
The report also alleged rioters targeted police efforts to close off area streets.
Those efforts, according to police, prevented the department from carrying out mass arrests during the protest – another piece of evidence cited by proponents of the stand-down theory.
“Mass arrest plans were not prudent as they would render a large number of our officers unable to respond to priority and emergency situations,” the report said.
Scottsdale PD and its partner agencies arrested 12 people during the riot.
In total, the department has made 40 arrests and recovered over $212,000 in stolen property.
According to the report, there are several ongoing related investigations and there could be additional arrests in the future.