CINCINNATI – Police said the beating of a bystander may have started the uproar Saturday that led to seven arrests at Fountain Square.
Seven revelers, including three juveniles, were arrested after police said a large crowd gathered at the square and became unruly. Cincinnati Police Captain Mike Neville told WCPO several different groups of people started fighting on the square shortly after 11 p.m. -- just after a concert, the Reds game and Fourth of July fireworks.
Officers donned riot gear, flanked the streets around the square and stood side-by-side to move the crowd and apparently to protect themselves. Two officers and the bystander were injured, according to Neville.
The disturbance and associated police response comes as the city is in preparation mode to host Major League Baseball's All-Star Game weekend that will showcase the city and its baseball history and fandom to a national audience beginning next weekend.
Saturday night's incident came as the city and it's police department grapple with a 10-year spike in shootings, the fatal ambush of a beloved 27-year police veteran and a 90-day crime reduction plan that initially included new juvenile curfew centers and increased police presence in high-crime areas.
Police said the bystander in Saturday's incident, later identified as 27-year-old Christopher McKnight, suffered serious injuries, some internal, and was released from the hospital late Sunday. A police report on the incident stated police were investigating the case as a hate crime. Neville later announced at a press conference that the incident was not racially motivated.
Police confirmed the video below showing a bloody man on the ground -- which was viewed more than 280,000 times on Facebook by Sunday night -- was of McKnight.
WARNING: Video contains graphic images
Authorities have not said how many people were on the square at the time the fights erupted nor how many officers responded.
Things quickly escalated as officers tried to disperse the crowds. Witnesses, some of whom described the scene as a ''riot," said people in the crowd were setting off fireworks in trash cans on the square, some aimed at officers.
Jy Quynn Britten, 21, was arrested after CPD Central Business District officers said he punched an officer in the face. He was charged with obstructing official business and two counts of resisting arrest.
Britten appeared in court Monday morning, at which point his defense attorney argued his arrest was a case of mistaken identity.
"The officer didn't know who hit him, was asking around" his attorney argued. "Somebody said, 'I think (Britten) did it,' but he firmly denies that, says it was not him. He was misidentified in that."
The prosecuting attorney argued there was no doubt Britten struck an officer.
"Your honor, he did punch a police officer, he did cause a laceration to the chin," the prosecutor said. "After he did that, your honor, he then proceeded to run from the officers. He had to be Tased... This was an absolute melee and the defendant made it worse."
The prosecution asked that the judge set a high bond for Britten. Bond was set Monday morning at $51,000.
In 2012, Britten was convicted for disorderly conduct after fighting at Taste of Cincinnati, which is held near and on Fountain Square. He was arrested again in 2013 and charged with assault. Police said he punched a woman in the mouth after a verbal altercation. The charges were later dropped for want of prosecution.
In March 2015, Britten was charged with disorderly conduct. Police said he was causing alarm by using offensive language while intoxicated in Government Square, which is only a block away from Fountain Square.
Louis, a witness of Saturday's unrest downtown who would only give WCPO his first name, said he couldn't believe what he saw.
"The guy hit the police officer, his lip busted. Everybody started running, there were fireworks thrown toward the police officers. It was really wild,'' Louis said. "I don't know why it was like this, but it was crazy."
Watch Louis' reaction in the video below:
Another officer was struck with a bottle, according to District 1 police officials, and several other officers were hurt -- two of whom suffered cuts to the face. Both were expected to recover fully, officers said.
Neville said an investigation into the incident was ongoing and more arrests were possible.
A World Cup watch party Sunday evening at Fountain Square took place without incident, officials said.
Cincinnati is not the only city that experienced unrest over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. WCPO sister station WTMJ out of Milwaukee reported that city's police officers took a juvenile into custody after a 14-year-old was shot and killed Friday night as crowds dispersed from fireworks over the city's lakefront.