COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland has released officers' body camera footage of a controversial pepper spraying incident that resulted in an officer being suspended for two weeks without pay and the police chief apologizing to students.
The video is redacted, which police said was to protect names and images of students involved.
The incident started when police got two 911 calls reporting there was a fight involving weapons at an on-campus party. An investigation later showed the people who made the calls were angry they couldn't get into the party. They are now facing false reporting charges.
The footage shows two officers knocking on the door of the apartment, and two African-American female students responding and saying they are holding a graduation celebration and no fighting is going on.
The situation quickly escalates when one of the officers demands to be let inside.
"Sir, sir," a student said imploring there is not a fight.
"Who lives here? Move back from the door we need to see that everything is okay," said the officer.
The body camera footage shows ensuing chaos as officers try to clear out the party while some people remain standing in the hallway.
Officers pepper-sprayed students when one officer became surrounded in the crowded hallway, and then a second spray occurred after officers encountered an uncooperative person.
An internal investigation into the incident showed the first use of pepper spray was justified, but the second spray was not. University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell called officers’ actions "embarrassing," and stressed pepper spray could have been avoided completely.
"It escalated to a point that it didn't have to escalate to," Mitchell said. "Then we turn around and say, 'Oh, we had to use pepper spray.' It didn't need to go that far. It didn't."
Chief Mitchell said he apologized to some of the students involved when he met with them Thursday.
"First of all, I feel pain as I did the morning I saw the video, and secondly, I'm terribly embarrassed and humiliated by the actions of our officers," Mitchell said. "It shouldn't have happened this way. We don't often get it wrong, but we did here. And I am accountable as chief of police, and I'm holding the officers accountable."
Some students at the party told FOX 5 they felt excessive force was used because it was predominantly black students at the party.
Mitchell said the investigation did not show officers were targeting students because of their race as they were responding to what they thought were legitimate 911 calls. However, he did say he understands why students feel race was a factor.
"I feel their pain," he said. "It's up to us to do better in American law enforcement and certainly in my department."
He said he is evaluating the department's policy on use of pepper spray and mandating new training.