College Fest ends in riot, fires

Kristine Gill & Ben Wolford

About 60 people arrested at the scene

A College Fest block party on East College Avenue broke down into a clash between police and rioters Saturday night, resulting in about 60 arrests.

Several hundred party-goers at College Fest said they were standing on their front lawns when police began firing rubber bullets into the crowds. Soon after, protesters started a fire in the middle of East College Avenue.

A statement from the university sent to student e-mails at 12:23 a.m. Sunday said, “The university is disappointed in the events that have occurred and finds the behavior inexcusable.”

It is unknown how many of the arrests are students, and as of Saturday night no injuries had been reported, according to the statement. The university originally reported 125 arrests, but a release from the Kent Police Department said the number was about half that.

By comparison, 81 were arrested during Kent’s Halloween celebration in 2008.

“It’s going to be one of those in-and-out nights,” said Kent fireman Pat Paisley, who couldn’t assess for certain whether anyone was injured, police officers or otherwise. “As of right now I haven’t heard of anything yet.”

No Kent city police officers at the scene or at the station were prepared to comment Saturday night. Kent State Police Department dispatcher Kathleen Wills could not comment on campus police involvement because the incident was outside their jurisdiction.

“The cops were being nice, and two minutes later we were shot by rubber bullets for no reason,” said Jamie Farrell, junior architecture major, as he pulled up his shirt to show a welt on his abdomen.

At about 8:40 p.m. police began to break up a large crowd that had gathered along East College Avenue, witnesses said.

“Nothing would have started if the cops hadn’t started walking down the street,” said Evan Middleton, Kent State graduate student in human resources. “It was a typical party. People would have gotten drunk and passed out.”

One bystander said after police became aggressive with four females in the middle of the street, people on sidewalks, lawns and in houses threw glass bottles into the road.

“They shot everybody. They shot the crowd,” junior psychology major Brian Shilling said. “I was shot three times.”

That’s when partiers lit a fire in the middle of the street. Furniture, suitcases and tree branches blazed 15 feet high with thick, black smoke.

“I have all the respect for cops in the world,” Middleton said, “but what they did is bullshit.”

A little after 9 p.m. police officers in riot gear assembled at the west end of East College Avenue to plan a second bout of crowd control.

“We’re going to start arresting people who do not leave,” said one officer into a loudspeaker to the 20 or so other officers gathered. “Kent city police are arresting. Kent State Police Department is arresting.”

Kent fireman Ryan Pengal said firefighters were prepared to put out the fire as soon as police cleared the scene.

Pengal said it’s clearly illegal to start a fire in the middle of the street.

“Somebody is getting in trouble,” he said.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze at about 9:20 p.m., but almost immediately another fire was started farther up the street toward Franklin Hall. By the time the crowd-control police cleared the scene at about 10:51 p.m., four fires were started on East College Avenue.

Riot police were apparently firing rubber bullets and paintballs filled with nausea-inducing chemicals, several witnesses said.

Chris, who would not provide his last name, said he was shot in the shoulder and showed his bruise.

“Pardon my language; I’m a little upset right now,” he said. “I’ve spent the last half-hour puking.”

At 9:45 p.m., police backup was still being called to the scene. Emergency vehicles present included units from Brady Lake, Kent, Kent State, Brimfield, County Sheriff, Aurora, State Highway Patrol, Stow emergency vehicles, Suffield Township, Monroe Falls, Tallmadge, Ravenna, Cuyahoga Falls, Streetsboro and the Metro SWAT team.

Bystanders said police were arresting anyone still on the street and yelling at people to go inside their houses

One student rushing away from East College Avenue shouted, “They don’t care if you’re 95 years old. They’re drop-kicking anyone they see.”

Several witnesses claimed unconfirmed reports of aggressive police action.

Brandie Rankin, freshman fashion merchandising major, said she saw police push down a woman who approached them.

“This girl came up to ask the cops why her friend was being arrested, and the cop pushed her on the ground and left,” Rankin said.

Landon Herr, sophomore business major, saw a similar incident.

“I saw this one guy sitting peacefully on the street, cross-legged with his arms out,” he said. “(As police approached), he put his hands behind his back. They threw him down on the ground. The ground is full of glass.”

Police even fired non-lethal ammunition into a house, said Kent State alumnus Taylor Gillespie.

“I was just upstairs, and they shot one of my friends in the hand,” he said. “They yelled at one of my friends to put the window down, and as he was putting it down, they shot him.”

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.

At 11:08 p.m. a report came that three police cars were parked outside Lefton’s house. A Kent Police Department dispatcher could not say why they were there.

Contact campus editor Ben Wolford at [email protected].

Contact public affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].