LEWISTON — Police Chief Brian O’Malley asked people for patience and support Tuesday as state police continued to investigate the death last week of Donald Giusti.

In front of dozens of residents who converged on the council chambers to hear and respond to the briefing, O’Malley defended his department’s response to the recent violence, saying Lewiston police are working around the clock to bring the right people to justice, and are working to diffuse neighborhood tension.

The City Council on Tuesday night approved an emergency ordinance to impose an earlier police curfew on Kennedy Park and to expand and upgrade camera surveillance in the downtown.

Lewiston police are acting as support for the Maine State Police investigation, and O’Malley said the lack of information being released to the public is part of the effort to maintain an accurate investigation.

O’Malley said it is a complex and unusual case because of the many teenagers and juveniles involved. He added that Lewiston police and state police have been conducting interviews at Lewiston high and middles schools.

“The logistics of interviewing juveniles gets to be complex because you have to find parents and get permission to speak to them,” he said. “I know people want answers quickly. I think perhaps TV has jaded us a bit. It has not been a week yet.”

Over the past three months, O’Malley said, there has been a problem with children going out without parental supervision. Members of the public, who spoke for about an hour Tuesday, blamed much of the issue on parenting.

Lewiston officials and citizens asked residents not to “rush to judgment” concerning the ethnicity of those involved or the possibility of the violence being driven by race, which has been the subject of a social media storm.

“We want justice for the Giusti family, but we have to make sure we do a thorough and complete investigation,” O’Malley said. “I know it’s upsetting to the public, but this is something that’s taking longer than it normally does because of the sheer numbers of people involved.”

O’Malley said police have been asked repeatedly about the ethnicity of the people involved, but that he would not release information on suspects’ ethnicities. He added that it would not be common practice to release the ethnic background of Giusti.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said “inappropriate, threatening comments” on social media “is not the direction we want to go.”

“We don’t want to make it more tense,” he said.

On Sunday, Somali elders met with O’Malley at City Hall following an event calling for peace in Kennedy Park. O’Malley said members of the immigrant community have been assisting police in canvassing the neighborhood and “interpreting for us.”

Many neighbors Tuesday said fear has been rising in the neighborhood, and that police are not doing enough to discourage criminal activity in and around the park.

Casey Graham, who lives near the park, said a lot of criminal activity occurs during the day. He said recently an 11-year-old boy was shot with a BB gun. Police were dispatched and he was told they could do nothing. He said his daughter’s bike has been stolen twice recently.

“It’s not enough, and a protest won’t do anything,” he said.

Many called for better communication and a de-escalation of hatred on social media.

Jay Allen, a local building owner, said he was fearful that people are turning this into a racial issue.

“This isn’t a black-and-white issue,” he said. “It’s people who have no guidance.”

A local resident identifying herself as Christine said there is a lot of anger in Lewiston, and that it stems from low-income people struggling with a variety of issues.

“There are a lot of reasons for people to be angry,” she said. “I don’t see lazy, poor people. I see people struggling.”

Steve Hassan said the recent violence comes down to “a parenting problem.” He suggested police come up with a two-strike policy against youths, with the third strike affecting the parent.

“The games they’re playing with police is just incredible,” he said.

O’Malley said there are 10 surveillance cameras in the park area.

The council’s decision on park rules Tuesday sets a uniform closing time. Until now, the section of the park with the basketball court has had a 9 p.m. closing, while the gazebo portion has been 1 a.m. The new, uniform closing time will be 10 p.m.

Barrett said the move will simplify policing the park in the evening hours. New signs will be posted at the park, and officers will be watching after 10 p.m., he said.

O’Malley said he has assigned officers on foot patrol until at least 2 a.m. nightly.

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Lewiston Police Chief Brian O’Malley addresses the crowd gathered in the council chambers Tuesday night about the ongoing murder investigation of Donald Giusti.(Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

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