Early Friday morning, five students were arrested by the Middletown Police Department after the University’s Public Safety officers were unable to break up an outdoor party on Fountain Avenue. About 200 students fled the area as police used pepper spray, dogs and taser guns.
“On Friday morning, we had a different reaction from the students than we have normally,” said Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer. “There were some incidents that made things go the way they did. We have a lot of information – and we’re still receiving more – to go through before we determine exactly what happened. We are looking into a variety of factors.”
At 11:45 p.m. on Thursday night, Public Safety shut down a concert in the backyard behind 64 Fountain Ave. Students migrated down the street, and at 12:50 a.m. Public Safety told students to leave the area.
“They were blocking vehicles and things of that nature,” Meyer said. “We were not getting a lot of cooperation and at that time due to the temperament we felt in the crowd, we called the police department.”
Middletown Police officers arrived around 1:30 a.m. According to witnesses, a student threw a beer can at the first police car on the scene. After several minutes, approximately a dozen police cars blocked the street, including squads from the Connecticut State Police and the Cromwell and Portland Police Departments. Students were chanting and yelling obscenities. The officers tried to get students out of the area until 2:10 a.m., and began to use force shortly thereafter.
A pepper ball gun was fired, setting off multiple bursts of pepper spray. Students fled from the smoke, many seeking water at houses on the street.
Witnesses reported seeing at least two police dogs who chased and bit students. Those resisting arrest were stunned with taser guns. Because the street was blocked by the police cars, ambulances were temporarily unable to reach those needing assistance.
Some students remained on the scene trying to find their friends. Numerous people videotaped the police attacks.
Tadd Gero ’08 and Julius Pasay ’08 went to President Michael Roth’s house at 2:35 a.m. waking him up. Roth drove to Fountain Ave. with Gero and Pasay and addressed a group of students that had convened on the corner of Church and Vine Streets. At least one local TV news crew captured the exchange.
Meyer said the street wasn’t entirely cleared until 3:20 a.m. Five Wesleyan students were taken into police custody.
Sixty students went down to the Middletown Police Department in the early morning hours to file citizen complaints on the way the incident was handled by law enforcement. Roth also visited the department and the emergency room.
Meyer said that as of Friday afternoon, several parents had called his office to find out details on the situation.
Meyer also met with the Deputy Chief and Patrol Commander of the Middletown Police Department on Friday.
“We want to make sure we’re getting correct information,” Meyer explained. “We want to keep communication open and make sure things are handled correctly.”
The administration, along with Wesleyan Student Assembly President-elect Mike Pernick ’10, Vice President-elect Saul Carlin ’09 and Senior Class President Ravid Chowdhury ’09 plan to address this issue during the upcoming months.
“From administration’s perspective, this isn’t going to go away just because the students are going away for the summer,” explained University Director of Media Relations David Pesci.
Pernick thinks that Friday’s incident epitomizes a lot of issues that need to be addressed regarding safety on campus.
“We all want the same thing: a rich and safe college experience,” he said. “We need to have a dialogue about the dynamic between the student body, Public Safety, and local law enforcement. Right now we are gathering as much information as possible – once that is done, we can push for specific policy changes. We need to make sure this never happens again.”
Carlin said he was shocked that something like this could occur at the University.
In fact, this isn’t the first incident of its kind. In September 2002, 12 students were arrested when a Miles Avenue party was broken up. Middletown police were assisted by additional police units from Cromwell and Portland as well as Connecticut State Troopers.
While officers were armed with pepper-ball guns, the 200-person crowd was dispersed without their use.
In September 2003, about 200 students started an impromptu “flash” dance party that blocked the intersection of High Street and Lawn Avenue. That gathering was also broken up by Middletown Police with backup from the Cromwell, Portland, and Meriden Police Departments along with Connecticut State Troopers.
Officers used ten rounds of pepper-balls to disperse the crowd and one student was arrested.
In both situations, students complained that the police made unnecessary and inappropriate use of force.