Sarasota police: Teens attacked homeless man, off-duty officer in park

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An off-duty Sarasota police officer stepped in to defend a homeless man who was being harassed by a group of teens, but he then became their target.

Investigators say at least five teens were involved. The attack happened in Payne Park around noon Thursday.

The Sarasota Police Department said the officer was out for a jog when he saw a pack of teenagers harassing and hitting a homeless man.

“Another guy came up trying to break it up, saying ‘Let’s not have this right here,’ then they kinda started ganging up on him, started beating him up,” said Zach Farley.

Officials say the group hit the officer several times and then ran off. They say he suffered minor injuries.

“They probably should have been in school if they’re teenagers, so what are they doing out here attacking people?” William Schlenger asked.

Schlenger and his brother, Brian sit in the public park every day, doing art. They said they know the man the teens were picking on.

“He’s pretty peaceful and never had any issues with anybody, no altercations or anything,” Schlenger said. “So, we were kinda caught off guard to hear that someone attacked him, don’t know what that’s all about. But it’s sad, you know, he’s down on his luck and definitely doesn’t need violence around, that’s for sure.”

The Sarasota Police Department said in a tweet Thursday afternoon the homeless man was not hurt.

“Hopefully those kids will learn a lesson of some sort, that treating others with kindness is gonna take them further in life,” Mallory Anfinson said.

Investigators say they’re still looking for the teens involved, but they are following a few leads.