Security guard arrested in teen center incident

WOODBRIDGE -- A 32-year-old New Haven man hired by Amity Teen Center staff to provide security for a private party was arrested after dispensing pepper spray that hit several youths, police said.

Several teens suffered the burning effects of the pepper spray, and organizers say they have already made a policy change to help ensure such an incident never occurs again. The new policy requires that any time there is a special event, a guest list will be required in advance to ensure every youth is accounted for, and there are no overflow crowds.

A capacity crowd of 200 teenagers was inside during the event Monday night, and about 50 teens were outside. Police said officers went to the Amity Teen Center on Selden Street at about 9:30 p.m. Monday because of a report that someone had entered the premises with a weapons.

When officers arrived, they found a "large number of people" congregating outside the teen center as a large private birthday party was being held, police said.

Police searched the premises and did not find a weapon, and organizers say they decided tothe party to ensure the safety of those inside.

Mark S. Stroud, of 347 Peck St., who was hired as a private security provider, was arrested after police saw him discharging a canister of "Sabre Red Pepper Spray" into the crowd of teens. Police said medical personnel responded to the scene to treat some of the teens for the effects of the spray.

Stroud is charged with second-degree breach of peace. He is due to appear in Superior Court in New Haven Thursday.

Amity Teen Center Co-Director Brock Boilla said he was the one who decided to shut down the event, not police. Police searched the building and did not find a weapon. Teens entering the facility must pass through a metal detector, and a hand scanner also is used.

"If there was any chance of a weapon then we had to shut it down," Boilla said. "We have zero tolerance when it comes to weapons."

Amity Teen Center Co-Director Jennifer Stalsworth said the event in question was a birthday party that was scheduled to go until 1 a.m. and was broken up around 11 p.m. She said two private security people were hired, along with an off-duty police officer.

A statement issued by the Police Department said, "The event was being held without prior notification to the Police Department."

Stalsworth said when the police came up empty on their search for a weapon, it was the organizer's call whether to cancel the event. "We don't want to take a chance and we made an announcement that the party was over," Stalsworth said.

She said the party was an exception, and was only being held because students had no school Tuesday for Election Day. The crowd left in an orderly fashion, and she said she had no idea why Stroud dispensed the pepper spray.

Stalsworth said Stroud's security firm will not be hired back, and the teen center staff does not condone use of pepper spray.

"This is the first time we've had an issue in the last six months," Stalsworth said.

The teen center opened 2 1/2 years ago, but in the last six months adopted full-time hours. Stalsworth said it creates a "safe haven" for youths, providing video game rooms, a basketball court and computers.

The center is open from 2 to 8 p.m., Monday through Wednesday; 2 to 10 p.m., Thursday; and 2 to 11 p.m. Friday through Sundays. It's open to youths in seventh through twelfth grade.