The Dunwoody Police Department has described more details about what may have been an intended mass looting of Perimeter Mall early on May 30 as around 150 to 200 vehicles were “escorted” away by officers.

The vehicles — many with obscured or out-of-state license plates — came in waves, with some masked and gloved occupants gathering at nearby businesses, DPD said. No arrests were made and no one directly attempted to break into the mall. A restaurant in a nearby shopping center was burglarized, but DPD is still investigating whether it was connected to the groups around the mall.

An entrance to Perimeter Mall as it appeared in 2018 in a Google Maps image.

“The best use of our officers during these events was to prevent violence and looting,” said DPD spokesperson Sgt. Robert Parsons about the decision not to arrest anyone for missing tags or similar offenses. “Traffic stops on vehicles for tag violations during this time would have taken many officers out of service, leaving large portions of the area vulnerable and without a police presence.”

Officers on the scene came from several departments as well as the multi-jurisdictional North Metro SWAT Team. Officers did not use force to ward off the visitors, Parsons said.

“Thankfully, officer presence was enough to deter any incidents. When officers arrived, the crowds often dispersed and went elsewhere,” he said.

The events around the 4400 Ashford-Dunwoody Road mall, a statewide shopping attraction, began as rioters were looting malls and shopping centers about 5 miles away in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. The rioting spun out of protests about the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, where a police officer is charged with murder and manslaughter.

According to a narrative from Parsons, the first wave came around 2 a.m., when about 20 cars arrived at a McDonald’s at Ashford-Dunwoody and Perimeter Center West, across the street from the mall, and at a Wells Fargo bank next door.

A Google map of the Perimeter Mall area where the Dunwoody Police Department encountered vehicles and groups of people on May 30. The dark blue star is Perimeter Mall. The orange star is the Exxon station. The red star is the McDonald’s. The purple star is Walmart. The light blue star is Tin Drum Asian Kitchen.

“All of the occupants exited [the cars] and were wearing masks and gloves, but a heavy police presence was there including assistance from Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Chamblee,” said Parsons. “After about 20-30 minutes, the crowd entered their cars and dispersed.”

Officers followed those cars out of the city. But from 2:30 to 5:30 a.m., “a steady stream of vehicles appeared” and attempted to enter the mall’s parking lot, Parsons said. Most of the vehicles had obscured or missing license plates; many of the others had out-of-state plates, he said.

“Many of the motorists had on masks and gloves and most of the cars were occupied by at least four or more occupants,” Parsons said.

The majority of the drivers left when they encountered police. However, one group of drivers, in about 17 vehicles, arrived around 4:30 a.m. and stayed at an Exxon gas station at Ashford-Dunwoody and Perimeter Center East, across the street from the mall. The occupants left the vehicles and were “screaming, dancing to loud music and shooting fireworks,” Parsons said.

After DPD “showed a heavy presence,” the group drove about a half-mile north to a Walmart store in the Perimeter Village shopping center at Ashford-Dunwoody and Meadow Lane. Before they left, one vehicle exited the Walmart onto Ashford-Dunwoody with a flat tire, “driving erratically,” Parsons said. Officers stopped the vehicle and the driver immediately fled. The driver, whom DPD did not immediately identify, is now wanted on warrants for traffic offenses.

The only known commercial burglary incident in the area at that time was at the Tin Drum Asian Kitchen restaurant in the Perimeter Place shopping center on Olde Perimeter Way, roughly one-third of a mile from the mall. A safe and an iPad computer were stolen, Parsons said. DPD is still investigating that crime and any connection to the activity around the mall is unclear.

“We have no other reports of anyone trying to enter the mall or other stores,” said Parsons.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.