Newburgh police blamed a relative of a man they killed earlier this year for fanning the flames of a near-riot early Saturday morning that once again put officers at odds with some 60 people in Liberty Street.
When it was all over, police arrested a 15-year-old relative of Michael Lembhard, a Newburgh man who was shot and killed during a confrontation with police in March.
A small group of police officers were surrounded by an angry crowd when they tried to break up a fight on Liberty Street at 12:45 a.m., the Newburgh Police Department said. The officers responded after fielding several calls from neighbors who reported a large house party had spilled into the street, Sgt. Richard Carrion said.
Initially, police said they were trying to disperse a crowd of some 60 people and break up a melee in which a man was "violently punching a female," but said members of the crowd quickly turned on the officers as they tried to intervene.
Officer Robert Pedrick pulled the attacking man back and tried to arrest him, but another man in the crowd "began pulling on Officer Pedrick's arm, preventing him from making the arrest," cops said.
Now struggling with two men, Pedrick was alarmed when he realized a woman behind him grabbed his duty belt and reached for his gun, according to police. As he turned to deal with the woman grasping at his gun, Pedrick was punched in the back of the head by another man in the crowd.
Another officer moved quickly to help Pedrick, but he was intercepted by a teenage member of the Lembhard family, who was stomping on a parked patrol car and threw a punch at the assisting officer, cops said.
That's when the situation became worse, police said, as another relative of Michael Lembhard "was threatening the officers as they tried to calm the crowd and make the necessary arrests."
The unidentified Lembhard relative "was impeding the officers' efforts to calm the crowd and disperse everybody," Carrion said.
Relatives confirmed the arrest, but disputed the police version of events.
The family was holding a cook-out -- separate from the house party further up the street -- when police arrived, according to Mary Lembhard, the 26-year-old sister of Michael Lembhard.
"We just heard the commotion going on, and so we go down the road to see what was going on," Hall said.
Hall said she was maced, along with several other people. She accused police of taking the first aggressive actions.
As police struggled with people in the crowd, Hall said she was thinking of "how much I hate them." On Saturday, some 15 hours after the incident, Hall said her eyes were still burning from the mace.
It took the efforts of the five responding Newburgh officers, and a half-dozen more police officers from New Windsor and the Town of Newburgh, to diffuse the situation and prevent further violence, cops said.
Michael Lembhard, 22, was shot and killed by police on March 7 after he allegedly charged at officers with a knife in his hand. Police were cleared by a grand jury and point to toxicology results that showed Lembhard had PCP -- also known as angel dust --in his system at the time.
Lembhard's family pointed to the same autopsy report, which determined officers had fired 15 shots at Lembhard. Since then, the family has held protests backed by the community, several members of the City Council have condemned the police department, and tensions between the police and community remain high.
Most recently, the police union passed a unanimous vote of "no confidence" in the City Council, and police have accused council members of selectively ignoring the grand jury's decision.
Edith King, Michael Lembhard's aunt, said she was not surprised when her niece and several others told her what happened earlier Saturday.
"It's the same thing as always," King said. "They're picking on people."
Two men and a teenager were arrested. Carrion said the officers showed restraint, but also acknowledged some of the allegedly violent suspects were able to flee in the chaos.
"There were many people who possibly could have faced charges," he said.
The back-up from New Windsor and the Town of Newburgh was critical in helping police prevent the violence from escalating, Carrion said.
"It is a tense situation with regards to manpower issues, however the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor as well as the State Police and sheriff's department consistently monitor our channel, and many times when they hear of a serious incident unfolding, they will call us and say 'We're sending you cars,' sometimes before we even actually call for help," Carrion said. "That's how good the surrounding towns have been to us, knowing the trouble we face and the specific manpower issues we have."
Police arrested Shakeem F. Smith, 19, and a 15-year-old boy, both of Newburgh, and charged them with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Robert M. Durrell, 19, was in the crowd and was charged with first-degree robbery, a felony, when police realized he was wanted in an unrelated incident.
Police don't know what happened to the woman who was attacked as officers were arriving and believe she fled in the chaos.
"We couldn't find her," Carrion said. "We are hoping she will come forward or if anyone has information with regards to her and how she is, they can give us a call."
An investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information can call the Newburgh Police Department at 845-561-3131.