NEW ORLEANS — It was tournament night Sunday at the popular Sea Cave video arcade on St. Claude Avenue when a customer became erratic, using a price tag gun to maliciously plaster a video game with stickers. Owner Judah Lea refunded the man his money and asked him to leave.
The customer didn’t take the ejection well. He began threatening the owner with a knife before leaving — but not for long.
“He came back 20 minutes later and attached a U-lock, a bicycle U-lock to the door, locking everybody inside,” Lea said.
After Lea ushered his 15 customers to safety and closed up, things got worse. Much worse.
“He would return three more times in the evening to basically smash out every screen, every television, all the glass pane windows,” Lea said.
Lea said he was at home watching the carnage remotely through the arcade's video cameras. While calling police, Lea watched as the attacker used an axe to smash virtually every screen and window in the all-ages amusement spot. The business was still littered with broken glass inside and out Tuesday afternoon.
“I was shaking,” Lea said. “Like I just felt violated. I spent six years of my life on this place. It's been a labor of love. To just watch so much of it go away in just one moment.”
Lea said he called the police several times Sunday night, but the attacker left before they arrived.
The marauder returned Monday and did even more damage. After that, a network of friends and customers put the word out on social media and people began reporting seeing the man in the French Quarter.
While fielding phone calls about the man’s location, Lea said he went to the NOPD’s Eight District station in the French Quarter to try and summon help.
“I went into the police station and was told there were not any available units,” he said. “Then I went down to where he was and tried to flag a cop car down for about an hour, but didn't see a single one.”
When the attacker was spotted again Monday night in the Bywater neighborhood, police showed up and arrested 30-year-old Mitchell McNeely IV.
McNeely was booked with false imprisonment, aggravated assault, criminal mischief and criminal damage to property, jail records show.
Lea estimated that the damage to his business could total $50,000, including the destruction of some irreplaceable vintage video games.
A GoFundMe account has been established to help recover some of the venue’s losses.
“To come back and take all this from me, my customers and my community, I just don't understand it,” Lea said.
Lea, who vowed to re-open as soon as possible, said all he and his business partners can do now is pick up the pieces.