Crowds clash with police, refuse to back down
Broken hopes quickly turned to broken beer bottles as unruly fans clashed with riot officers on Saturday evening.
Crowds on University Boulevard were forcefully disbanded by Tucson Police Department officers after the Arizona men’s basketball team lost to Wisconsin 64-63 in overtime in the Elite Eight.
After the gathering of fans celebrating the Sweet Sixteen game win in the street on Thursday, TPD increased its presence on University Boulevard.
During the game, 60 to 70 officers were stationed on University Boulevard, said Sgt. Pete Dugan, a TPD spokesman.
The officers were in full riot gear by 7:45 p.m., over 20 minutes before the basketball game ended.
TPD had 12 police officers stationed on Fourth Avenue in front of O’Malleys Bar and Grill, but fans dispersed in a calm manner and no violence took place, in contrast to the riots following the national championship games in 1997 and 2001.
Rachel Eisenstadt, a UA alumna, was on Fourth Avenue at the time the game ended. Eisenstadt said she felt the police presence was excessive.
“People are smart enough to know what not to do in situations like this,” Eisenstadt said.
The scene on Fourth Avenue was more muted than University Boulevard, which spiraled into chaos when those attempting to leave the bars and restaurants were ordered by police on motorcycles to vacate the area.
Fans began gathering in the middle of the street and on the streetcar platform, refusing to leave. Riot police formed a line across University Boulevard and declared the gathering to be an unlawful assembly.
“We gave the dispersal order several times, both in English and Spanish, telling everybody that the street had to be cleared,” Dugan said. “People were still refusing to leave, which at that point becomes a misdemeanor offense.”
Police officers were struck by objects thrown by the crowd, which included beer cans, beer bottles and fireworks such as firecrackers and sparklers. Fans also stretched out along the street, shouted obscenities at officers and slammed their fists against street signs, adding a metallic clang to the already loud atmosphere.
The line of police responded by firing pepper balls, small balls filled with natural pepper oil, into the crowd. Officers also threw pepper canisters, which dispense pepper spray over a large area, at the front of the group of people. One crowd member threw one of the pepper canisters administered by officers back at the line of police.
Students reacted visibly to the pepper spray, coughing and choking on the fumes, some vomiting on the sidewalks due to the chemical.
Dozens of fans and students, including a Daily Wildcat editor, were shot with pepper balls by police, some multiple times. One bystander who was wearing a neck brace was shot with pepper balls once in the arm and four times in the back.
Members of the crowd banded together, chanting, “Fuck Wisconsin” and “Fuck the police.” Fans also shouted at each other not to fall back when the officers began to advance. One voice could be heard yelling over the crowd: “They can’t take us all!”
Adam Odeh, a second-year pharmacy student, said he was shot with a pepper ball by police when he tried to kick a pepper canister back toward the line of officers. Odeh said that overall, he felt that the police were doing a good job handling the situation.
“They’re doing what they’re commanded to do,” Odeh said. “I think a lot of us are probably being more stupid than we should be because we lost, but that’s kind of expected.”
Not all fans agreed. Delaney Cook, an undeclared freshman, said she felt the police were being too aggressive.
“They’re being way too brutal and they’re beating the crap out of people, just because they’re standing up,” Cook said. “We’re just chanting ‘U of A’ and they’re deliberately throwing [pepper spray] at us and like shooting at us.”
One fan walked toward the police line with his arms spread out. Officers responded by shooting the man with pepper balls multiple times, then grabbing him and pulling him behind the police line.
Once behind the line, the officers held the man in place while one officer kneed him in the stomach, then punched him three to four times in the stomach and torso, before the other officers forced the man to the ground.
Dugan declined to comment on officers’ use of force.
Businesses on University Boulevard struggled to stay out of the way of the conflict between police and the crowd. No Anchovies, a restaurant on University Boulevard, refused to let people in once the struggle began. One crowd member who said he had asthma tried to take refuge from the pepper spray inside the restaurant and was turned away.
The police line advanced on the crowd, pushing some back with batons, and continued issuing commands to disperse. Crowd members remained in the streets until about 9:30 p.m., at which point the police line had pushed any straggling members back to the intersection of University Boulevard and Euclid Avenue.
A street sign was torn down by the crowd, and some of the projectiles thrown by those involved in the gathering struck police cruisers in the area, Dugan said. The full extent of the damage done during the melee is unknown.
In total, 15 crowd members were taken into custody. Three of the 15 people taken into custody complained of minor injuries, but the total number of injuries sustained is unknown at this time, Dugan said.
Officers from University of Arizona Police Department were also present on University Boulevard, although not to the same extent as TPD, said Sgt. Fil Barrera, a spokesman for UAPD. Barrera said UAPD had about 15 officers to assist in point control and holding some intersections.
A statement issued by the Dean of Students Office expressed disappointment with Arizona fans, and stated that any UA students found to be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct during the time of the clash would be held accountable. Chris Sigurdson, senior associate vice president of university relations, said the Dean of Students Office plans to follow the normal procedure for students who commit an act that violates the code of conduct.
“Obviously the students who obeyed the police orders are not in trouble,” Sigurdson said, “but for any student that may have been arrested or identified … the Dean of Students will call him or her in for an interview and then make a determination.”
Some students said they thought the police presence played a role in exciting the crowd.
Max McKinley, a media entertainment junior, was shot in the side with a pepper ball by officers. McKinley said he blamed the heavy police presence for the disturbance.
“You want to know why the riots are happening? Because they’re making it happen,” McKinley said. “If the cops didn’t come, we would all go to where we want to go, but because there are cops here … shit like this is going to make students riot more and more. Cops make this kind of stuff happen.”
— Ethan McSweeney, Meghan Fernandez, Elizabeth Eaton, Savannah Douglas and Rebecca Sasnett contributed reporting to this article