LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police were combing through cellphones and security footage Wednesday trying to identify dozens of young people who'd rampaged through Hollywood the night before, knocking down people, stealing their cellphones and grabbing souvenir trinkets from shops before a police sweep and arrests ensued.
Calls reporting packs of as many as 40 marauding young people began coming in at around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday from stores near the famed Hollywood and Vine intersection. The youths — possibly organized through social media — ran through the streets, stole T-shirts and other goods, including food, from businesses mainly on Hollywood Boulevard.
No serious injuries were reported.
Police had redeployed numerous officers, including those from the Hollywood area, to the city's Crenshaw District after violence broke out the previous night during protests of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was believed the youths took advantage of that "and decided that this would be a good night to come up to Hollywood and act a little crazy."
"Really there was no big financial gain on this thing," Smith said, "it was just a bunch of misguided children, going out and committing wrong."
Lenny Padilla was working at the cashier at T-Island, a souvenir shop on Hollywood Boulevard, when a horde of roughly 40 "high-school kids" ran by the store screaming, gathered up about 10 piles of a dozen T-shirts and smashed two postcard stands to the ground. He saw a woman holding a baby hit by a guy running by; police caught up with some of the youths at a Starbucks blocks away.
Padilla estimates the store lost about $600 in merchandise. "They were kids, all kids," said Padilla, who has worked there for 13 years. "I've never seen crazy people like that."
Across the street, about 20 youths had grabbed the tip jars at Skooby's, a hot dog restaurant, and emptied them outside, said manager Mauricio Garcia. A single jar sat on the counter Wednesday afternoon, still empty.
More than 100 police officers were called in Tuesday night and most arrests were made in minutes.
Twelve people — all but one under the age of 18 — were arrested and though none lived in Hollywood, most were girls and boys from Los Angeles ranging in age from 14 to 17, Smith said. Eleven were held on suspicion of robbery and one for receiving stolen property. Arshon Webb, 18, of Los Angeles was booked for robbery, Smith said.
The attackers traveled to Hollywood by bus or other public transportation and apparently knew each other, loosely organizing through text messages and possibly social media, police said.
"They said, 'let's go to Hollywood and have a riot,'" Smith said, referring to screen shots of messages sent between the young people.
The attacks followed the arrests of 14 people a night earlier in the Crenshaw District after about 150 people split off from a peaceful protest over Zimmerman's acquittal and ran through the streets, jumped on cars, and punched bystanders. A Wal-Mart store was vandalized.
It was unclear whether the Hollywood marauders were inspired by either that violence or anger at the jury verdict. Police were reviewing footage to see if any were the same protesters who'd gathered Sunday along Hollywood Boulevard. Two protests, in the Crenshaw District and downtown, Tuesday night were peaceful.
Police are still searching for the remainder of the youths and plan to begin releasing security camera footage and still shots of suspect faces to the public in the days to come.
This was the second recent high-profile criminal incident along the Walk of Fame. After a woman was stabbed to death in June, police added 20 officers to the area indefinitely, Smith said.
Even so, officials were quick to remind the public that crime in Hollywood remains down significantly. The area remains the No. 1 tourist destination in Los Angeles County with more than 10 million visitors each year.
"Even in the worst of times 20 years ago, the tourists still came by the millions and we anticipate they will continue to come," said Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Leron Gubler.
On Wednesday, despite the news trucks and a police helicopter overhead, it was business as usual for many along the boulevard: Busloads of tourists posed with a wax figure Marilyn Monroe, took pictures with a character actor Robin Hood, and in true Hollywood fashion, filmed a real live LAPD news conference.