Police recount their side of the College Fest riots

Christina Stavale

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Kent Police Chief James Peach said it was “excellent” the way Kent police and other departments handled Saturday’s College Fest riots.

He said the police department had more staffing scheduled later in the evening when they anticipated problems might happen. However, when things began to get out of hand earlier than they expected, they called for mutual aid.

“As quickly as this occurred, I’m very comfortable and very proud of the professionalism and the joint training which was demonstrated in the result of this problem,” Peach said.

He added that they plan to take what they’ve learned this weekend and put it into practice in the following weekends this semester. Next weekend, two block parties -Drinkin’ on North Lincoln and Shermania – are planned, and in addition to having more preparation during the day, the Metro SWAT team, State Highway Patrol and sheriff’s department will be on hand.

At a press conference yesterday morning, Peach recounted the day’s events. With the day’s temperatures reaching a high of 84 degrees, the partying began early – some at 7 a.m.

Between 3:30 and 7 p.m. Saturday, there were five arrests for underage drinking. Officers from the Kent and Kent State police departments maintained a low profile during that time. They were on foot with no cruisers, which he said was enough to maintain “some kind of control during the daytime.” Then, at 7:54 p.m., police arrested an underage girl who was drinking beer on the sidewalk.

“As officers began to arrest the female, who began to loudly protest her arrest and began screaming, (it) resulted in several of the partygoers to come to her aid,” Peach said. “They immediately got right next to the officers, taunting them, threatening them because of the arrest taking place.”

The officers told them to back away, Peach said, because they were interfering with another’s arrest. They didn’t comply, so officers pushed them away. One of these people pushed was a female who fell down from the incident.

Peach said force was used Saturday night only when people were resisting arrest.

“And I can assure you I saw none that was over exerted because we were very limited in terms of who we directed for arrest for a specific purpose,” he said. ” … I saw nothing that was out of the norm.”

As the police crew used transport vans to take away the arrested woman, partygoers began throwing objects including bottles and rocks at the officers and their vehicles. They then left the area, and returned immediately with eight to 10 officers, in attempts to clear the streets. Still, Peach said, people continued to pelt them with objects.

Mutual aid responded when they had to relieve these officers for their safety.

Meanwhile, partygoers had set a fire in the middle of the street, which was fueled with porches, fences and doors from houses they may or may not have lived at.

Forty-five minutes later, officers in riot uniforms and gear lined up, giving orders through electronic speakers to the partygoers to stop their actions and leave the area immediately. Peach said they were repeatedly told that failure to leave would result in their arrest.

He said officers continued a “slow, methodical process” to get people off the streets so firefighters could put out the flames. But only about a third of the crowd left when police asked them to, leaving 1,500 to 2,000 people in the streets.

About the ammunition used

• Pepper balls: These pellets filled with CS, or tear, gas are a non-lethal tool used by most law enforcement departments. It stops the action of whatever a person is doing – usually violent behavior – as it hits them and goes up in a small puff. It may also be aimed above or beside a group of people who refuse to move.

•Stinger grenades: These contain little rubber balls and a small touch of CS gas. They are used to disperse crowds.

•Baton rounds: These wooden blocks are dispersed with a 37mm and sound like a shotgun. These are aimed at the ground, and they skip up and hit the knees.

Source: James Peach, Kent chief of police

“It was necessary for the officers to use non-lethal pepperballs, stinger grenades and baton rounds to disperse the angry and hostile crowd,” Peach said. “It took officers approximately an hour and a half to disperse the length of College Street from one side to the other.”

Peach said ammunition was aimed at groups of people who did not comply with their order to clear the streets, and at people who were throwing projectiles. He added that the pepper balls were used to get people to move and were not targeted at specific individuals unless there was a specific problem.

Peach said that so far no one has made formal complaints about Saturday’s events. If they wish to, he said they should come to the police department where they have “a formal and easy personnel complaint policy.” Peach assured that they will investigate all complaints.

Some students have since informally said that they were arrested without being told what they were arrested for. Peach said that while “all things are possible,” it’s likely these students were arrested for failure to disperse when police warned them that they would be arrested if they did not clear the streets. He added that they may have been too intoxicated to understand what was going on.

During the night, Peach said police were also dispatched to President Lester Lefton’s house because his wife was receiving calls from people threatening to come there to protest. The protesters never showed up.

Contact public affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected].

Akron responds

During the years 1990 to 1999, police officers at the University of Akron experienced incidents similar to the one that happened this past weekend at Kent State. On the last Friday of classes, students traditionally celebrated May Day.

Newt Engle, assistant chief of police for the University of Akron, said while officers would always have non-lethal ammunition available, they look at this as a last resort, where people’s lives are put in jeopardy.

What helped end the out-of-control parties was a proactive approach between the University of Akron, the Summit County Sheriff Department and the Akron Police Department, Engle said.

As soon as the weather begins to get warm during the spring, these groups begin to meet with students who live in highly student-populated neighborhoods and explain the party ordinances and laws to them. They assure them that they will be watching, and if the parties are not in strict compliance with the law, they will have to take action.

Engle said that through doing this, they have gotten the students on their side.

“Once we were able to sway the core hosts and hostesses, good things started to happen,” he said.

Engle reminded students that when police ask them to do something – as long as it is in line with the law – they have to do it.

“If they say leave the area, they have to leave the area,” he said.

He said in situations like this, there is often a mob mentality, and decisions have to be made in the moment.

“I’m sure under the circumstances, they (the Kent State police) did what was most appropriate at the time,” Engle said.