Police charge Fall River men in clown hoax

Police Photo: Ryun Coleman
Police Photo: Ryun Coleman

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) —  The creepy clown hysteria that has swept the nation is also having an impact in Southern New England, and it’s no joking matter for local police.

Police in Fall River confirm they charged two men Wednesday night in connection with a recent hoax in the city, but one of the suspects says he and his friend were just fooling around.

The police report obtained by Eyewitness News says callers reported seeing “two clowns in a black car waving hatchets out the window” on William S. Canning Blvd. One woman told police her 3-year-old son was so scared, she had to physically move him to her car.

Police said officers ran the registration of the vehicle and tracked down Erik Harrison, the driver, and his friend Ryun Coleman. Upon searching the car, officers say they found five assorted knives in the trunk, as well as what appeared to be a small cleaver in a compartment in the driver’s side door.

Photo of Erik Harrison and Coleman, as confirmed by Harrison
Photo of Erik Harrison and Ryun Coleman. Harrison reportedly told police he and a friend, Ryun Coleman, 26, bought a clown mask at a Halloween store and admitted to wearing a mask. However, he denied having any weapons.

Officers arrested Coleman and charged him with disturbing the peace while armed and disorderly conduct. Harrison was issued a summons for disorderly conduct.

“I did nothing wrong,” Harrison said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Thursday. “What are they going to do on Halloween? Are they going to arrest everyone that’s wearing a clown mask?

Harrison said the two friends bought the clown masks for a theme party, and were wearing them in the car on the way back from the store.

“We were dancing in the car with the music cranked up all the way up,” he said, denying that their actions resembled the nationwide “creepy clown” craze, which often features clowns near the woods at night.

He said the knives were in his trunk because he works as a chef at a New Bedford restaurant, and he denied waving any of them out the window. He showed Eyewitness News the rest of his chef’s kit in his trunk, which featured spices and other cooking tools. Police confiscated the knives.

He also had an explanation for what police described as a cleaver in his driver’s side door.

“[It’s] a tiny little knife that’s waved to cut potatoes so you can cut waffles fries,” he said.

Coleman was arraigned in Fall River District Court on Friday. Harrison’s arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 18.

The clown hoax situation has also surfaced in Rhode island. Coventry police released a statement Friday that a social media post referenced schools in the area.

“The reported sightings in Rhode Island have been unfounded, but school officials and police will continue to monitor any posts specific to our area,” said Coventry Col. John MacDonald.

Related: The psychology behind the clown hysteria »

The statement said law enforcement agencies in more than two dozen states have been tracking social media threats and sightings of subjects dressed as clowns.

New Bedford police also sent out a notice on the department’s Facebook page.

The post read:

“We know there is a lot of concern out there about sightings of people dressed as clowns and reported threats connected to them. We certainly understand that people are unsettled by this. Please be reassured that we are taking the community’s concerns seriously and are assessing each incident as it occurs. Out of an abundance of caution, we have stepped up patrols around city schools. We see no reason to be unnecessarily worried but encourage anyone aware of any suspicious behavior to call us.”