UMD police chief: Officers didn't target graduation party where pepper spray was used
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland police chief says his officers simply did not target a predominately black graduation party on campus early Saturday morning. Two people were arrested after officers used pepper spray to break up the party, and some students say they believe race played a role in the situation.
Chief David Mitchell says a thorough investigation is underway to determine whether officers were correct in using pepper spray to break up the party. He said that investigation will be conducted internally, and not by any outside agencies.
"I've read some of the comments online that claim that we targeted this party, we targeted this specific group," Chief Mitchell said. "That's simply not true."
In an interview with FOX 5, Chief Mitchell said officers got two calls about the party, the first was a noise complaint and the second was from a guy attending the party.
"He said, 'There's a fight going on. There might be a baseball bat involved, there might be weapons,'" Mitchell said.
He said when officers arrived, they found an apartment over capacity, and told people to leave.
"We said, 'Party's over,'" Mitchell said. "If everybody leaves, we leave. It's that simple. We don't arrest anybody, there's no need to."
He said some were cooperative and helpful, but others combative. Mitchell said pepper spray was first used when people were crowding around an officer in the building's hallway, making it hard for him to move or see clearly.
Later, two people were arrested on charges including disorderly conduct. Mitchell said one of them, a female student, had been sprayed, and while firefighters were trying to help her, someone got aggressive, and an officer deployed pepper spray a second time.
"My job is to determine if our actions were appropriate," he said. "And that's what we're doing--reviewing all the body camera video now, comparing it to our rules and procedures."
He said of the 11 officers who responded to the scene, 10 were wearing body cameras. He said he will release footage in the next two weeks.
Several students who were at the party spoke to FOX 5 on Saturday, and they shared their video of the incident. They say they don't understand why their party was broken up when other people were also having graduation parties around campus, or why they got pepper sprayed when they were following officers' commands to leave.
Theo Scoulios, who was a DJ at the party, explained what went down during those tense moments.
"They were being very forceful," he explained. "Using their arms to throw people, and then at that point, they start to mace everybody. To me, it seemed as if it was a little-- not a little-- a lot excessive."
Cell phone video shows a group of people in the building's hallway, and officers trying to get them to clear the area. Naya Frasier, a recent graduate, says she was at the party, and students were trying to comply with the officers' commands.
"I see my friends retreating. I see them pulling each other away from the situation. I see them actively moving away from the officers, which is what they were asked to do. And it's after that point that they begin screaming and they get pepper sprayed-- so that's where my failure to comprehend comes in," Frasier said.
Frasier said she was trying to flee from the crowd when saw heard a friend screaming, and saw others on the ground holding their eyes in pain. In the cell phone video, students are heard yelling and coughing.
"How do you have people that are moving away, that are retreating, that are doing what they were asked to do, that are clearing the space-- and as a result, they're assaulted in this way?" Frasier said.