Questions burn after riots
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Story by: Kristine Gill
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More than 25 Kent State students, and an additional 25 partygoers have arraignments set for Wednesday and Thursday after this weekend's College Fest riots. But it remains unclear what sparked the violence.
Only minor injuries to officers were reported by the Kent City Police and Fire departments, and there were no reports of major injuries to partygoers.
In a news release issued around 3 a.m. yesterday, Kent Police reported that about 53 people were arrested after multiple warnings for charges, including failure to disperse, a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Dispatchers said that number is climbing.
"We got arrested for failure to disperse, but we didn't hear the order. We were inside, and we went out on the porch to grab some things and they arrested us," senior psychology major Joey Smith said. "...They dragged me down the street without shoes on, with all the glass and the fire. They didn't even tell me what I was being arrested for."
|SATURDAY NIGHT ON EAST COLLEGE AVENUE: Before 8:30 p.m. a large crowd of College Fest partiers gather on East College Avenue. About 8:40 p.m. police attempt to break up the crowd, and protesters began to throw glass bottles at officers. Police responded by firing non-lethal ammunition from paintball guns. About 8:50 p.m. rioters start a large fire in the middle of the street, fueling it with tree branches, furniture, street signs and a TV. Cheering crowds gathered around it, filling lawns and piling onto rooftops. About 9:05 p.m. police in riot gear assembled at the west end of East College Avenue and prepared to march toward Lincoln Street dispersing the crowd. They arrested anyone who would not leave the scene. About 9:20 p.m. firefighters extinguish the fire as police continue to disperse the crowd. Minutes later rioters started another fire farther down the road. Eventually two more fires were started on the street. At 10:51 p.m. police called off the detail in charge of crowd control on East College Avenue and removed road blocks. At 12:23 a.m. the university sent a statement to student e-mails reporting 125 arrests and calling the events "inexcusable."|
What students sawAccording to the press release from police, the riot started "when partying students and others began pelting police officers with bottles and rocks at the scene of an arrest."
Students corroborated that story yesterday.
"There were four or five cops, and they started arresting people on the sidewalk for open container. This girl's friend got arrested and she went up to see why, then she got pushed down," said Kirk Price, junior justice studies major. "People started throwing bottles after that, and the cops fired those rubber bullets right after."
Students said partygoers responded by starting a fire in the middle of East College Avenue.
"The fires didn't start first. I was running from the cops' shots before any fires started," said Lauren McCumber, junior integrated language arts major.
Max Nixon, junior airport management major, began taking video between 7 and 7:30 p.m., after what people are calling "the push," when he said an officer shoved a girl onto the pavement while she was apparently inquiring about the arrest of a friend. Nixon captured video as the girl, who was pushed, went back to talk to officers again. His video is posted on YouTube.
"The officer kind of rushes over to the female and arrests her (in the video). He pushes her around and swings her around," Nixon said. "In my opinion it was excessive force."
Nixon said beer bottle throwing that followed this scene was in direct response to "the push." He said officers retreated to the dead end of East College Avenue, where they regrouped and later advanced down the street to disperse students using paintball guns and tear gas.
"I was told they just blindly fired rubber bullets into the crowd to disperse the crowd," Nixon said.
Flames and smoke licked tree branches hanging over the street where students had climbed for a better view. John Tosko, Kent City Fire Department captain, said firefighters received a call at 8:19 p.m. and arrived at the scene shortly after. They had to wait for police to clear the streets before trucks could get to the fire.
"(The fire) didn't look like it was going to spread anywhere," Tosko said. "We were worried about the electrical wires, so we called the power company."
Tosko said firefighters met with police to form a game plan to safely extinguish the flames.
"Police had to get enough officers together to form a large enough group to safely go down and clear the street of partiers," he said. "It took a little while to get everybody together. Once we did, we were able to get down the street to put the fire out between 9 and 9:30 p.m.
"Police kind of put people toward campus. They were lighting other fires as they were retreating," he said. "It was a pretty good fire. We were putting the main one out; then from the other end, three other fires started. We got those out, too."
Tosko said firefighters were hit by glass bottles, but no one was seriously injured. Extra ambulances were called to the scene in case of injuries as a precautionary measure. Tosko said the fire department was well prepared and able to call in extra manpower from local stations.
The police department's press release makes no mention of the methods police used to disperse the crowds, and dispatchers said a new press release will be available today. Officers at the scene late Saturday night weren't in yesterday to comment about the events. Students said they were hit by rubber bullets and paintballs filled with mace.
Cleaning up and moving forward
The Health Department issued about 10 citations to East College Avenue residents whose lawns had not been cleaned by 10:30 a.m. yesterday when commissioner John Ferlito went door to door.
"I told them they had to clean up their front yards, and I asked them to clean the street," Ferlito said, adding that students were asked to clean their yards by 5 p.m.
"This doesn't give us a good image. It makes it sound like college kids are always partying when most of the students aren't that way," he said. "I have nothing against partying if you do it responsibly."
Ward 5 City Council member Heidi Shaffer, whose jurisdiction includes East College Avenue, said she was disappointed by the events.
"I think this is going to set us back. It's difficult for residents who see this kind of behavior to have a good impression (of students)," Shaffer said, adding that she plans to look into reports that police used unnecessary force on partygoers.
Shaffer said some students she talked to said they expected the city to clean up the streets and repair the damages.
"We can't afford, as a city, to go in and replace all (the street signs) without someone taking responsibility for it," Shaffer said.
Shaffer plans to meet with Greg Jarvie, associate vice president and dean of students, this week to address upcoming parties this semester.
"I think we are going to be talking about this for a while," Shaffer said.
Saturday's events come eight years after 40 people were arrested for flipping cars and setting dumpsters on fire at University Townhomes. Tosko said there was more damage in 2001 but that this event was similar.
"This is probably the worst since then," he said.
Ferlito agreed that the scene in 2001 was worse.
"Students were setting cars on fire," he said.
The university responds
University officials issued a statement at 12:23 a.m. yesterday after things calmed down, saying they were disappointed in the events that occurred and found the behavior inexcusable.
President Lester Lefton would not comment on the incident and said it was inappropriate for a reporter to call him at his home late on a Saturday night.
Jarvie would not comment because he said it was family time.
Pete Goldsmith, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, did comment.
"My current belief is that there was too much alcohol in too long a period," Goldsmith said, adding alcohol was a fuel and students used poor judgment and didn't respond when police intervened.
"I think the issue is that it really isn't appropriate to throw bottles or rocks at police or anyone else or set fires in the middle of the street," Goldsmith said.
Regina Garcia Cano, Ted Hamilton, Nicole Stempak, Christina Thomas, Caitlyn Wachovec and Ben Wolford contributed to this story.