Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

Game at park ends in charges
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Aug 12, 2013, 14:39

PRINCE GEORGE — Authorities are pursuing legal repercussions for 168 individuals who took part in a game of “Manhunt” last Monday in Temple Park after dark.

On Aug. 5 at approximately 9:30 p.m., Prince George police officers were dispatched to Temple Park where an estimated 300 people were playing a game called “manhunt,” essentially a form of tag with teams, said Captain Brian Kei of the Prince George Police Department.

Of the 300, approximately 130 individuals fled the scene during which 25-30 people hopped the fence of a nearby resident and at least one car damaged the park’s soccer field, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Jay Paul, who is currently handling the case.

The police took down the names of 168 people, formally charging 19 of them, who spanned the ages of 15-26 years old with residences in Prince George, Hopewell, Chesterfield and Petersburg, Kei said.

“More people were over 18 than were under 18,” Paul said.

Police stopped issuing summons because of time constraints and feasibility, Kei said.

Paul, who is responsible for determining an appropriate penalty for trespassing, stressed that when considering the repercussions, several factors must be taken into account including the safety of the manhunt participants, the property interests of residents surrounding the park and the individuals’ deliberate disregard of the law.

However, Paul emphasized that the commonwealth has no intention of creating any long-term negative consequences for those involved.

“The commonwealth attorney’s office is looking for a way that we resolve this in a way in which there [are] no long term implications for anyone involved. Many people in the community are over exaggerating what can happen to these children and young adults. I believe this has been a disservice to any productive resolution of this matter,” Paul said.

For individuals older and younger than 18 years old, Paul said that the official penalty will be different, but that “they will be treated the same way in that essentially there should be no long term implications for anyone involved unless they contributed directly to property damage.”

Paul also said that alternate action may be taken with the 19 who were previously charged.

Benjamin Poe, a Prince George High School 2012 alumni, said he attended three of the four Manhunt Monday events this summer, a weekly gathering of young individuals at a park or some large area in which to play manhunt.

During the game, the individuals were split into two teams designated by a black or white T-shirt, where members of one team try to avoid getting tagged by members of the other team.

Poe said attendance increased every week, but he was never aware of any criminal activity taking place during any of the nights, and that it was just an outlet for young individuals from the community to get together “like a family” and have a good time.

Although he admitted he knew they weren’t supposed to be in the park after dark, Poe said that there is no moral justification behind bringing charges against them.

“I don’t think it’s right because we weren’t doing anything wrong. There’s no reason to give us a trespassing charge other than the fact that we were there after dark,” Poe said.

Kei said that any legal actions taken will be “about accountability and responsibility” but futures will not be harmed by the decision.

“We’re not in the business of ruining kids’ lives,” Kei said.

Prior to the police arriving at Temple Park, they had been dispatched to the Food Lion on Prince George Drive earlier in the evening to disband the same group of kids who had met up in the grocery store’s parking lot, Kei said.

Kei said that the officers on the scene overheard some of the individuals say they were going to go to Temple Park and play manhunt, which the police then warned them not to do because it would be considered trespassing.

According to a Facebook group titled “Come Support Our Kids,” this warning was only issued to a few remaining individuals after hundreds had already left the parking lot.

The group was created in response to the actions of local authorities, and asks that citizens attend Tuesday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting to “show their support for our youth to not have criminal charges or other legal proceedings simply for playing a game and socializing with their friends.”

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

In the future, Poe said the group might try and establish an organized, permissible Manhunt Monday setting where participants pay a small entry fee which would get donated to a charity.

Under state law, trespassing is a class 1 misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and no more than a $2,500 fine.

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