Students say police didn't give warnings Rally planned to protest St. Mary's incident

September 10, 1998|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ST. MARY'S CITY -- Students hung banners, published a special edition of their newspaper and planned a rally this week to protest the arrests last weekend of 18 St. Mary's College students at a raucous outdoor party on campus.

On a campus where students can dock their boats, leave their bicycles unlocked and share the college green with peacocks, a loud party is as much a part of life as athletics and academics.

That is until Saturday night, when police brought dogs, pepper spray and a helicopter to the idyllic campus on the St. Mary's River to break up a party that attracted 300 students.

Explanation demanded

While no formal complaints have been filed against police, students accuse them of overreacting and demand an explanation.

School officials remain tight-lip-ped, saying they are piecing together what happened. They have posted signs asking students to report their version of events as part of a college inquiry into the incident.

The St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office says college public safety officials called for assistance Saturday night because students were drinking outside their dorms.

After the incident, the sheriff's office said officers asked the crowd to disperse before police made the arrests and that a thrown rock hit a police car and nearly struck a sheriff's deputy.

'Manhandled people'

But the school newspaper, The Point, published a special issue yesterday chronicling the incident and alleging improper actions by police -- based on interviews with three dozen witnesses.

Some students said yesterday the party never got out of control, there was no reason to call police and that officers brought in police dogs and a helicopter unnecessarily. They also said police never told them to disperse or gave warnings before making arrests.

"They just came in and manhandled people," said J.P. Fischer, 22, a senior from Oakton, Va.

He said he got pepper spray in his eyes from a mist left after police were called to break up the party about 11 p.m.

Added John McDonald, 21, a senior who helped organize the party held between two townhouse-style dormitories and a campus green: "The police showed up and immediately started arresting people within five minutes. We were not even given a chance to comply."

Panicked by dogs

Some students said the police canine units caused some party-goers to panic and that the helicopter and its spotlight drew gawkers, making the situation worse.

"I had to suspend disbelief to what was going on around me," said Bo Knutson, 19, a sophomore from Boyds in Montgomery County, who was arrested for disorderly conduct. "It was like terrorism, pandemonium. There was too much happening all around."

Students said the party was larger than most weekend festivities, but that the crowd was not out of control and that large parties are not unusual at the school of 1,600 students.

In 1996, the college was rated as one of the nation's top 10 party schools by the Princeton Review, a college guide. "It's an every-weekend thing to have parties here," said Aaron Norton, 19, a sophomore from Hagerstown.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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