By Kevin Deutsch
Numerous fights and gunfire plagued the Margate Fair Thursday night and forced police to shut the event down early—the latest instance of bullets flying at the fairgrounds, authorities said.
Margate Police officers arrested two people amid the violence: Ronteesha Pughsley, 20, was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, police said.
A male juvenile whose name was not made public was charged with disorderly conduct, according to the department.
Gunfire was reported at the fair—and heard by police officers working the event—both before and after police shut the fair down around 10:30 p.m., police said.
The event had been scheduled to remain open until midnight.
No victims of gunfire or injuries were reported.
“There were numerous fights that occurred within and around the fair, both before and after the fair was closed,” said Margate Police Lieutenant Michael Druzbik, a police spokesman and commander of the department’s third platoon.
Police on Saturday could not definitively say how many people were involved in the violence. Officers obtained cell phone video from a witness at the fair, “which will provide us with further follow-up,” Druzbik said.
The fair is serving beer for the first time this year, though it was not known Saturday whether drinking played a role in the violence. The event was previously alcohol-free.
Both police and private security guards are working the event, scheduled to continue through Dec. 4 at the corner of State Road 7 and Margate Boulevard.
“We have various measures in place regarding the fair security and law enforcement, which includes numerous ‘off-duty’ detail officers and supervisors each day and night of the fair,” said Druzbik. “Also, our [fire department] has on-scene ‘off-duty’ detail members each day and night as well. Lastly, the fair has numerous security guards working in and around the fair in addition to [police].”
High-profile instances of gun violence have plagued the Margate Fair since its inception.
So has legal controversy.
A Broward County judge in October issued an injunction barring the Margate Fair operator from using the name of the long-running, nonprofit Broward County Fair, court records show.
The Margate fair’s operator, Harlan Bast, had previously used the name of the official Broward County Fair without the nonprofit fair’s permission, wrote Circuit Court Judge Michele Towbin Singer. Bast wanted the public to falsely believe the fairs were one and the same, the judge said.
The Spring Break version of the fair, held from March to April 2022, was also shut down by police during one night of operation due to “chaos, disturbances, fights, and in the interest of public and officer safety” after a series of violent clashes between fairgoers, police records show.
At the November 2021 fair, a 91-year-old woman, Meredeth Bartels, was wounded when a stray bullet fired from the fairgrounds struck her, according to court records.
Brandon Craig, 40, a carnival worker at the fair, allegedly fired two shots during a dispute with another carnival worker, wounding Bartels with a bullet in the process, police said.
Craig is awaiting trial on charges of attempted felony murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, carrying a concealed firearm, and battery.
Before the fair’s Nov. 18 opening, multiple Margate residents expressed concerns over safety at the event to city commissioners.
Records show the city was paid at least $50,000 in the deal allowing the Fall fair to operate.
Joshua Rydell, mayor of neighboring Coconut Creek and the lawyer representing Bast in his dealings with Margate, told Margate commissioners at an August Community Redevelopment Agency meeting that private security would be added to bolster public safety at the event.
In a Facebook post, Rydell said, “It was fireworks, not gunfire” heard at the fair Thursday.
“Security and safety has been a priority of the current administrator of the fair,” Rydell wrote.
- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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