Disagreement arises over police actions at Penn State

By Lily Henning
The Daily Collegian
March 26, 2001

(Penn State, PA) - Local government officials and Pennsylvania State University administrators commended police efforts in quelling Saturday morning's riot, but some students said they were unsure about the fairness of the measures police used in controlling the crowd.

Many questioned how well police communicated that they intended to clear the sidewalk and when they would begin using physical force and pepper spray.

"Hell, there was no warning, they just pepper sprayed at random. I got sprayed right in the face," said Rich Fetcho (senior-mechanical engineering).

But State College Police Chief Tom King said officers gave the crowd "ample warning" through the use of a public address system and other verbal notices.

"Quickly this crowd turned unruly. Officers attempted to keep the crowd in a celebration mood, to keep them jovial," King said, adding that when attempts to clear the sidewalk failed, a decision was made to evacuate the area by means of warnings, chemical spray and, if necessary, physical force.

King said the crowd was hostile, drunken and aggressive, and the mob's behavior warranted the control measures used. While some people who were sprayed complained they were "not doing anything," King said they were in violation of the law by remaining in an area where police had given dispersal orders.

"That's the risk people take for wanting to gawk," he said.

Some students said they were not gawking but simply trying to leave the area.

"If you didn't move fast enough, they just got you," Matt Stanley (junior-journalism) said of the police and their use of pepper spray.

When the crowd pushed back eastward along East Beaver Avenue at about 12:40 a.m., police began forcing people into apartment buildings in order to clear the street and sidewalks.

In efforts to control the resurgent crowd, some officers began to spray at close-range specific individuals who refused to enter the lobbies or physically could not do so because of the crush of the crowd.

Once inside the building, members of the crowd, many of whom were coughing and crying from the pepper spray, attempted to move up stairways and through the narrow halls of the apartment complexes.

King and others continued to emphasize in a press conference on Saturday that the riot was fueled by alcohol and that the response of the police was "dictated by the rioters."

Copyright 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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