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Law enforcement inspect a gun outside of the entrance near Rodizio Grill and Sears at the Hamilton Place mall on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Police respond in force to reports of shots fired at Hamilton Place

A defense attorney for the 18-year-old charged in last month's shooting scare at Hamilton Place mall says someone else was responsible for causing a riot that hurt some shoppers and caused property damage.

Hundreds of shoppers scattered on Feb. 24 after a concerned citizen told a security guard that David Ballard displayed a gun on an escalator near the Journeys shoe store, according to testimony last week in Hamilton County General Sessions Court.

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David LeBron Ballard

Chattanooga police said there was no evidence of a shooting and later found three shell casings that weren't connected to the incident.

Ballard, who fled the scene during the pandemonium, faces aggravated riot, reckless endangerment and unlawful carrying or possessing of a firearm charges as a result.

Ballard, however, never pointed his weapon at anybody, and no shoppers seemed to notice it or were panicked until a concerned citizen drew his own gun and caused others to scream that Ballard was armed, defense attorney Lloyd Levitt argued, pointing to surveillance footage of the incident.

"What caused any riot or disturbance was this other gentleman playing vigilante," Levitt said during a March 8 preliminary hearing. "That's what caused people to start running and panicking."

The Chattanooga Police Department never identified that man.

A woman who was 26 weeks pregnant fell down, got trampled and required medical attention, while another man broke his tibia and is now wearing a cast, according to court testimony.

General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes said he believed Ballard put the wheels of the riot in motion, pointing to a fight Ballard and a group of his friends instigated shortly before the chaos.

Starnes sent Ballard's charges to the grand jury and raised his bond on the reckless endangerment and aggravated riot charges to $100,000 each. Ballard remains in custody and will continue to fight his case in Hamilton County Criminal Court if grand jurors return an indictment.

Jared Hamilton, a detective with the Chattanooga Police Department, said officers recognized Ballard from surveillance footage because he's been in Juvenile Court on burglary charges.

Hamilton said the fight was gang motivated and said Ballard and his friends belong to a street group called the Rollin 20 Crips.

Other than Hamilton's testimony, prosecutors didn't introduce evidence that showed Ballard belonged to a gang.

Ballard also faced an "alteration of an item's permanent number" charge because officers said a gun that he ditched in the parking lot had identifying information filed off.

Prosecutor Cameron Williams agreed to dismiss that charge but said Ballard wasn't an innocent bystander.

"He wasn't just on an elevator going up and someone happened to see a weapon," Williams said, adding there was a fight beforehand.

Ballard's reckless endangerment and aggravated riot charges are Class E felonies that carry one to two years in prison, Levitt said. His gun charge is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a one-year maximum punishment.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zack peterson918.

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