By Taylor Swaak and Naomi Grant

University of Maryland Police arrested two people and used pepper spray to disperse a crowd early Saturday morning at a Courtyards party, officials said.

Police received a 911 call at about 1:46 a.m. from a male caller regarding a fight and underage drinking on the 8500 block of Boteler Lane, according to a police department release. The first two officers who arrived were also told someone inside the party was seen with a bat.

The officers told the partygoers to leave the apartment “numerous times” though some did not comply, according to another release. Police used pepper spray and force to disperse the crowd of predominantly-black attendees when “an officer was surrounded by a crowd in the hallway.”

Police used pepper spray a second time during a confrontation in the parking lot while first responders tended to those initially sprayed, according to that release. The police department is conducting a formal review to determine whether use of force was justified. University Police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said more information will be forthcoming on social media and that this is still an active investigation.

The confrontation and arrests followed a gathering of about 30 people who were celebrating graduation, said David Garrett, the former Black Student Union president who just graduated.

The partygoers heard a loud banging on the door, “which was kind of weird because usually it’s the RAs first,” he said. Once the police arrived, attendees began to leave and gather in the hallway, Garrett said. “The next thing you know, pepper spray went off,” Garrett said. “And it kind of just went downhill from there.”

Garrett expressed his dismay at the events that took place.

“I’ll say that in my four years at Maryland … it was probably the most disgusting thing that I’ve ever seen at the university,” he said. “Even for those people that weren’t necessarily there, there may not be physical scars, but there are most likely emotional scars that take much longer to heal.”

The event received significant backlash on Twitter, where many users said the police officers’ use of force was a case of racism.

University Police responded on Twitter Saturday that they were reviewing police body camera footage and neighboring footage to find out what happened. As of Sunday, they are “in the process of preparing the 9-1-1 audio recording for release as well as footage from a body worn camera,” according to a department release. Before footage is released from body cameras, faces must be redacted from the videos.

University President Wallace Loh called for a “swift and transparent” review of the incident Saturday, according to his Twitter account.

Student Government Association President Katherine Swanson said she met with University Police Chief David Mitchell Saturday afternoon and noted he agreed to release the footage from the body cameras, as well as details from the investigation. The SGA has reached out to students for additional information via Facebook.
Loh stressed that the community should be told additional information as soon as it becomes available.
“Whenever there is an incident of this sort, we as an institution have to be concerned,” Loh said. “I think people want to know what happened, myself included.”
As the incident spread on Twitter, Loh immediately went to the University Police station, he said. Once he arrived, he sat with Mitchell as he reviewed footage. The department’s use of body cameras has helped investigators look closely at the incident, he said.
“The videos capture [it] from different angles,” Loh said. “They would watch and roll back a few seconds and watch again, because it’s 2 o’ clock in the morning and it’s dark. … They’ve got a whole crew of people looking at videos.”
Loh sent out an email on Thursday with an update on the incident, as well as an acknowledgment of the claims of racial bias.

“This incident compels us to confront the reality that African-Americans, and other persons of color, experience bias and unequal treatment in everyday life,” he wrote. “Members of my staff have met with some of the students who were at the party. These students shared their anguish, anger, fear, and trauma.”

Loh emphasized in the email that although he may not be able to respond individually to everyone who has reached out to him via social media, he wants all affected by the incident to continue to express their concerns to him.

Mitchell released an open letter Thursday, and said that the investigation could take up to 30 days to complete. He also offered to meet with individuals or small groups of students “for candid, off-the-record conversations” regarding this incident.

The police department is required to conduct a use of force review whenever pepper spray is used, according to its annual internal affairs reports. University Police used pepper spray once in 2014, once in 2013, four times in 2012, once in 2011 and eight times in 2010, according to the reports. Data for 2015 is not available on the department website.

The Diamondback will have further details as they become available.

Ellie Silverman contributed to this report.