University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell released a report Thursday summarizing his investigation into the use of pepper spray twice to break up a graduation party at the Courtyards on May 21. The results, however, are somewhat confusing.
Here’s what we know:
Police went to the party after being tipped off — by what they later found to be a fake 911 call
Two people, who weren’t allowed into the party, fabricated reports of a fight involving a bat and underaged drinking inside the party. The police, however, had no way of verifying the call until later, but still shut down the party because the number of attendees “exceeded the legal capacity of the apartment,” according to Mitchell.
Police “should have handled the situation with more diplomacy”
The report itself was vague in the exact details of what happened between the call and the pepper spray deployments, but found initial efforts made by University Police to deescalate the party were insufficient.
Students who were affected by the incident said in a statement that officers were “rushing [partygoers] out” and told witnesses “they were trespassing if they did not leave.” They added:
Arguments escalated between police, residents, and witnesses outside of the apartment when everyone was trying to clear the area. The police then proceeded to mace the entire crowd without warning. The first five people to get maced were walking away when it was released as they were told to do. After people were maced, more police officers began laughing and shaking their mace bottles to continue spraying even though people were on the ground screaming and crying. The party goers were scattered at this point. Two people who did not attend the party but were there to help control the situation proceeded with other witnesses to a grassy area away from the apartment in Courtyards. As they proceeded to leave the area back up officers then came from the same direction they were walking. It was then ordered by an officer to “Arrest those two” while given a description of what they were wearing. The two witnesses were forcefully tackled to the ground, while the officers put their knees and elbows in their backs and necks to keep them down. They were then both taken away to cop cars.
The antagonistic approach of the police in this initial encounter, and the demand for break-up of the party, led to an escalation of tensions. The ensuing resistance and non-compliant conduct by some party attendees resulted eventually in the deployment of pepper spray.
Neither of the 2 scenarios detailed seemed to call for pepper spray but I suppose my basic de-escalation skills far exceed those of UMPD…
— Missandei. (@qurlylex) July 14, 2016
Using pepper spray did not violate University Police guidelines
Although it “could have been avoided,” according to Mitchell’s statement, the use of pepper spray in both instances aligned with University Police guidelines. This means that the officers were justified in deploying pepper spray to diffuse the situation, even though they had a hand in exacerbating it.
The email said “the pepper spray was justified but it wasn’t necessary and violates UMPD policy” 🤔 — Kayla (@KAYbeginskiss) July 14, 2016
However, the way one officer used pepper spray in the second instance was problematic
The manner in which the pepper spray was used, specifically during the second instance, did not meet University Police standards, according to the report. So, even though spraying itself was justified, the way police sprayed was not.
“Even in instances when the deployment of pepper spray to disperse a crowd is considered reasonable, it still must be applied correctly,” Mitchell said in the statement.
University Police punished only that specific officer
The officer who improperly used pepper spray has been suspended for two weeks without pay, according to the report. Moreover, University Police will undergo a review of policy, to ensure that each officer is familiar with the proper utilization of pepper spray.
Despite attempts to reach the police department, The Diamondback has not received word on why exactly the second use of pepper spray violated guidelines.