Sheriff says gangs are organizing ‘COVID-19 parties’ in crowds of up to 400; residents living in ‘terror’

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A Florida sheriff says he believes that massive street parties being organized by gangs are for the purpose of spreading the coronavirus.

Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson said that gang members have been organizing parties of up to 400 people so they could spread the virus amongst themselves, the UK’s Daily Mail reported Friday.

Noting that “residents are afraid,” Gibson said his department has fielded some 600 noise complaints since March due to the massive parties that are attended by hundreds of people at rented vacation homes.

Video released by Gibson’s office features scores of cars sealing off a road earlier this month after a large group of people had gathered to party in the street.

(Courtesy: Osceola County Sheriff)

Infrared footage in May shows that there were even more cars that were used to completely seal off an entire intersection before the party was disbursed by police.

Gibson said that local residents are “living a life of terror right now,” the Daily Mail noted.

The sheriff also noted in an interview with Click Orlando that at least one person who attended one of the parties was killed during a shooting incident. He added that he believes people attending the parties are “trying to mingle to potentially spread the virus among each other.”

As a result, he said that Osceola County has been experiencing a spike in recent weeks of coronavirus, though he did not say whether the spike was resulting in more hospitalizations.

“They’re being referred to, from what I’m being told, as COVID-19 parties where they’re actually getting together and they’re trying to mingle to potentially spread the virus amongst each other if they’re asymptomatic or whatever the case might be,” Gibson explained.

“We’ve just seen a tremendous spike just here in Osceola County,” he said, adding that the generally younger crowd that attends such parties may be asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms themselves, but that they risk spreading the virus to people who are more susceptible to contracting it and becoming far sicker.

“The problem is when you have this and you take it back home to a parent or grandparent, and unknowingly pass that virus on to them, and potentially end their life. It’s just not worth it,” he said.

“And you have to think beyond the moment. And I think sometimes our young folks are just thinking about the moment,” the sheriff added.

Besides the threat of spreading the virus, Gibson said that gangs were renting vacation homes in the area, which added an additional threat to public safety. He said he believes that most of them are coming from central Florida to rent homes in gated communities.

“Well, a lot of times, we’ve been finding out that there are people here that are unsavory people that you wouldn’t want in your neighborhoods. There are some gangs that are renting these houses, and they’re coming here to Osceola County. And this is something that we have to protect our residents with,” he told Click Orlando.

Police arrested Demetrius Cox, 20, in April, for allegedly killed another partygoer. Wolph Lutherking Luma, also 20, was taken to a nearby hospital in Orange County after police had broken up the party following reports of shots fired but could not find a victim.

“These are real situations, very dangerous situations and our residents are afraid, you know, and we don’t want that,” Gibson said.

“And we don’t want to feel like, other than dispersing this, that we’re powerless and they just continue to happen. Osceola County can’t be listed as party central or COVID-19 party central and then we’re not going to do that,” he added.

The sheriff said that while vacation homes are available to anyone to rent, the kinds of wild, violent block parties that gangs are throwing won’t be permitted.

“’If I have to bring a lobbyist on to the sheriff’s office to help us up there in Tallahassee, that is what we’ll do to get these laws changed that affect the tourism industry in Central Florida. Anywhere where there’s tourism, these houses, and these parties can go on,” he said.

“We’re not going to issue citations when we go to these homes when we see these open house parties. We’re going to get them on their way. They’re not going to be permitted to stay.”

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Jon Dougherty

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