AMHERST, Mass. — An early St. Patrick's Day celebration around the University of Massachusetts' flagship campus known as "Blarney Blowout" spun out of control Saturday as police officers in riot gear arrested more than 40 people while dispersing massive crowds, including unruly students throwing beer cans and bottles.
At least 43 people were arrested by late Saturday afternoon and four officers suffered minor injuries after police spent the day attempting to disperse "several" large gatherings, said Amherst Police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen. Gundersen said in a statement that police remained busy through Saturday evening handling numerous reports of fights, noise and highly intoxicated individuals.
"It is extremely disturbing and unsafe. Perhaps one of the worst scenes we have ever had with drunkenness and unruliness," Gundersen told The Republican in Springfield. "It is extremely upsetting. It is very dangerous."
Most of the arrests came at an off-campus apartment complex, where large crowds began gathering Saturday morning for the annual event, which was started by bars to allow the students to celebrate the holiday before their spring break begins this week.
Police from the city, university and state troopers in riot gear converged on a crowd of about 4,000 people at an apartment complex shortly after noon, police said in a statement Saturday night. Police said party-goers were involved in destruction of property and, as officers began to disperse the crowd, they were pelted with glass bottles, beer cans and snowballs.
After handling the disturbance at the apartment complex, police say several thousand people assembled near a frat house and near an intersection. Authorities said they determined that the gathering became dangerous and out of control, and when officers tried to clear the crowd they again faced people throwing bottles, rocks, cans and snowballs.
Police say pepper spray was used to disperse the crowds because of the size and "assaultive behavior."
Three officers were hurt when they were hit by bottles and one was injured while attempting to make an arrest, Gundersen said. None of the injuries required serious treatment.
Police say charges ranged from inciting to riot and failing to disperse to disorderly conduct, liquor law violations and assault and battery on officers.
After police arrested several people at last year's "Blarney Blowout," the university warned students earlier this week that police would have an increased presence around town Saturday. Letters were also sent directly to students disciplined in the last year for alcohol-related misconduct.
UMass denounced the "unruly behavior" Saturday and spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said students who were arrested will be reviewed under the school's code of conduct and that sanctions could include suspension or expulsion.
Amherst Capt. Christopher Pronovost described the day as "mayhem" to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
"This can't be in any way, shape or form be characterized as a party," he said. "This is destruction of property (and) assaultive behavior."
Collecting bottles and cans around the scene of the mayhem Saturday night, Amherst resident Raul Colon told the Gazette that the day's events looked like "a revolution, like in the countries that have revolutions between the students and the government."
Gundersen said that numerous participants in the revelry were also injured.
Other colleges across the country have gone on high alert around St. Patrick's Day to deal with alcohol-fueled students. At Penn State, the school paid licensed liquor establishments to stay closed this month during the unofficial drinking holiday known as State Patty's Day for the second year in a row.
State College, Pa., police Chief Tom King said that the strategy, along with a fraternity ban on parties, helped lead to a 75 percent decrease in arrests and citations this year compared to 2011 — the fake holiday's heyday.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press