published Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Students Maced at UTC


by Chloé Morrison
Audio clip

Vanessa Parks

  • photo
    Staff photo by Nathan Gayle

UTC freshman Vanessa Parks didn’t know what to expect late Thursday night when she decided to attend the rave at the Lupton Library, an event she had heard about from messages online.

When she approached the library, she said she saw hundreds of students gathered and dancing, music blaring in the background and some guys jumping off the building. Then suddenly the atmosphere became panicked.

“All the sudden I saw girls running backwards,” said Ms. Parks. “As I turned, a cop sprayed Mace in my face. The cop chased after me. I was scared because I hadn’t done anything wrong, and my face was burning. I didn’t know what to do.”

Ms. Parks is one of dozens students who were Maced Thursday night and are outraged about what they see as police brutality.

“There was no property damage; there was no vandalism. No one was getting hurt,” said Ms. Parks, who said her friends had to help her wash the Mace off her body.

Officials say police acted appropriately to a dangerous and disruptive scene. A group of nearly 1,000 attempted to storm the library doors and chanted “Let us in! ... Take the library,” a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga news release stated.

Some students threw items at the police officers, said Chuck Cantrell, a spokesman for the university.

The library was closed for a little more than an hour to allow the crowd to disperse and police regained control of the site, he said.

UTC student Nicholas Chad Rush, 18, was arrested at the gathering and charged with assault after police said he threw a water bottle that struck an officer in the face. Three other students, Aaron Schoolfield, Patrick Wright and Marques Donald also were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, said Sgt. Rick Mincy, spokesman for the Chattanooga Police Department.

“I know that some of the students believe this was a harmless gathering, but when you try to force your way into a building and jump off buildings, then you’ve gone beyond harmless fun,” said Mr. Cantrell. “We are the middle of exam week, and there were students inside the library trying to study and conduct research, and this crowd disrupted the operation of the library.”

UTC Chancellor Roger Brown said UTC police officers acted appropriately and said campus leaders will work to prevent future events from reaching a flash point.

Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper was out of town and unavailable for comment.

According to police reports, students had gathered at the library for a party at 11 p.m. that had been publicized via text message and online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

Mr. Cantrell estimated that the crowd numbered more than 1,000 students. However, some students and police say it was closer to 200 or 300.

UTC senior Jenny Adkins said the party was intended to be modeled after a 2008 rave at the University of North Carolina which occurred inside the school’s library. Students at UNC used the Internet to tell students about the event, she said.

Text messages about the UTC party began circulating among students last Sunday, said UTC sophomore Mario Howard, who was present at the library Thursday night.

He said the librarians knew about the rave and Dean of Libraries Theresa Liedtka reportedly told library employees to allow it to go on. Mr. Cantrell said librarians knew there were rumors that the rave would take place, but did not approve the event.

Ms. Adkins said students were stage-diving off a portion of the building when police arrived with Mace.

“They were Macing the students,” she said. “They were pulling it out and waving it around like Febreze.”

When the crowd began to disperse, some students were trampled, she said.

“Students were being stupid ... but I just don’t think the cops acted correctly,” she said.

UT student Ryan Miller, 19, said he was Maced and had to run and cover his face.

“(I feel) oppressed, as in they’re abusing their authority,” he said. “They came out and used physical force and I don’t think it was needed. My parents and my lawyer will hear about this.”

Other students were taken down to the ground with force, some students said.

Nakima Eddins, a freshman at UTC, said she saw a student who was jumped on by police after being Maced.

“The student apparently swung at the police, and they then threw him to the ground,” she said.

Carlazjion Constant, also a freshman, said he saw one man being attacked by a swarm of police officers.

“And then there were 15 of them on this one dude and then they threw him on the ground and they were hitting him,” he said.

Mr. Cantrell said he believes the student gathering was intended to be harmless fun, but as the crowd grew larger and larger and began trying to get into the library, police were unsure of the students’ intent.

“They took the position that they needed to protect the library,” he said. “When they told the crowd to disperse, some of the students didn’t. Things just escalated from there.”

In the future, Dr. Brown said officials will be on guard for raves or parties being advertised on Facebook or other social networking sites. If campus leaders know about a planned event, officials can talk with students about their intentions and work to ensure their safety.

“We are going to try to do an earlier and quicker response when we start to see text messaging or social network messaging,” he said. “I am not certain we can change one of these events on the spur of the moment, but we would certainly like the opportunity to try.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.

haha that is what you morons get. stay at home at 11pm. there is nothing to be gained by screwing off that late at night. you all are lucky mace is all you got.

April 25, 2009 at 6:56 a.m.
MountainJoe said...

I wasn't there (I am almost always at home at 11 p.m. :) but from the various accounts I have read, it seems as though there is blame to be assigned to both sides. At least some of the students seem to have gone too far, and at least some of the officers appear to have overreacted.

The difference is that we expect a certain amount of immaturity out of 18- to 21-year old college students; whereas police officers are supposed to be mature adults, hired and trained to keep their wits about them and to use force only when necessary and appropriate.

Unless several different students are lying, it would appear that at least some of the force used was inappropriate. I guess it will all come out in court after the police brutality lawsuits are filed.

April 25, 2009 at 7:39 a.m.
rolando said...

Please.

Using pepper spray on an unruly mob is NOT "the use of force". Quite the opposite -- it is a non-violent solution to an escalating situation. It is lower on the "violence scale" than billy-clubbing, for instance. NO ONE gets injured.

Early reports indicated actual violence by police officers on at least one occasion. Those incident[s] did not appear in this report. Depending on "the rest of the story", it may have been inappropriate...or not.

April 25, 2009 at 10:22 a.m.
bulbasaur said...

MountainJoe: I wouldn't be surprised to find out the students were lying for two reasons.

1.) These students aren't exactly intelligent; any remotely intelligent person wouldn't have been involved in this, and it's a well-known fact that idiots are more likely to lie than smart people.

2.) Right now the students are looking like the bad guys. If they can convince people that the police used excessive force, then all of a sudden the police are in the wrong and then the students are off the hook and don't have to worry about consequences for their utter stupidity.

Personally I think every single one of the students involved in this event should be expelled. This may seem harsh, but I truly believe anyone dumb enough to think that the library is an appropriate place for a party is never going to benefit from college anyway, and so their is no point in having them enrolled here. I certainly wouldn't mind not having to see and deal with these people every day.

April 25, 2009 at 11:23 a.m.
crew090 said...

Hmm. Interesting comments. I was there, and I don't consider myself an idiot. I am a very successful senior at UTC. I thought the whole thing simply sounded fun. Don't bother yourself with trying to figure out who's giving an accurate account. There are plenty of videos posted on youtube that show the whole thing from every angle. I'm am disappointed with Mr. Cantrell's portrayal of our behavior more than anything else. He wasn't there. He typed the e-mail from the account of a SGA member who was. I was standing next to the SGA member while he relayed information to Mr. Cantrell over the phone. Then Mr. Cantrell put his own spin on it.

None of the students were acting too out of line. I realize such a statement is debatable, but I merely take into account the absence of fighting, throwing things, breaking objects, or personal attacks towards the officers. (this is before being maced of course) Students weren't even doing as much as pounding on the doors. Jumping off the doors wasn't a good idea. I would have thought it very fair for one of the officers to ask the students to stop. They would have.

As for the water bottle that was thrown at the group of officers, it was lobbed, like a granny shot in basketball. I saw it land near the officers, but maybe it grazed one of them. I'm sure it hurt their egos more than anything, so they retaliated my beating the two students who were responsible. Just hand cuffs would have been more appropriate. Again all of this is on youtube just as I have explained it, so don't try to analyze my "view" on it all, just watch it. And while you watch it notice how the whole thing was just in good fun, and not hurting anyone. Even after being maced we were much more respectful to the officers than we could have been. A lobbed water bottle does not come close to the extent of the police retaliation.

April 25, 2009 at 2:08 p.m.
rolando said...

Hey, come on. These are college students letting off steam at the end of exam week. Can't say as I blame them a bit. It has nothing to do with stupidity and everything to do with being young.

I remember my youth -- and that was 50 years ago. [Sometimes I wonder how I lived through it.] But it was fun and I wouldn't deprive anyone of any reasonably legal part of theirs. Times are tough enough without adding to the misery.

I would rather our young were a bit raucous and disorderly while celebrating in public than passing around a bong or snorting a couple lines somewhere...or finding a rifle and a high place. The excitement and noise of the celebration aid naturally self-energizing, self-reinforcing high spirits. Stage-jumping might be a bit much although it DOES tell the jumper something about his trust in other people.

The police kept this celebration reasonable, seems to me. A few of the evidently more boisterous or argumentative got a face full of pepper spray and that's it. Game over. Nobody injured.

April 25, 2009 at 2:13 p.m.
rolando said...

After reading the post above mine, I will modify my last to add that there apparently WERE some injuries.

One question for the article's authors...which was used, Mace or pepper spray? The two are different, the latter being more universally effective with fewer side effects. And neither are "sprayed around like Fabreze" unless you want an eyeful yourself...or have a gasmask.

April 25, 2009 at 2:31 p.m.
bdvw said...

Oh, to be young again and passionate about "something"! I applaud the UTC students for coming together with a sense of connectedness. UTC could use a little school spirit!

April 25, 2009 at 2:55 p.m.
jyx667 said...

No, everyone should be kicked out... Really?

Any reasons to back that up, because if you have good ones, I want to hear them.

April 25, 2009 at 5:38 p.m.
InspectorBucket said...

crew090 speaks a good deal of truth when she asks for a closer look at the "spin."

I have received email eyewitness testimony about the incident. I know these youngsters to have commonsense--I would vouch for them without hesitation.

The official UTC administrative email was clearly written with PR spin and lawyers in mind.

Remember, the UTC campus police have lost a deal of credibility of late. Drinking with students and leaving firearms unattended, and then pretending to have the judgment to evaluate the flashmob and call in the heavy backup. The burden of proof is their responsibility.

The mistakes and misbehavior of 3 or 4 college students out of a crowd of 300 are notable, and any steady, experienced hand can put a stop to their dangerous behavior.

The mistakes and misbehavior of the UTC campus police and the Chattanooga PD are in every way more serious--no matter what.

I encourage the students to pursue an investigation.

April 25, 2009 at 11:09 p.m.
rednex41 said...

As my son walked toward the Yellow Deli to get coffee before returning to the library where he had been before taking a study break(his laptop and study materials were inside with with a friend and he had difficulty getting back in to retrieve them!), he was stopped forcibly by an officer who wanted to know "where the f--- are you going and where do you live?". This coming after reading court testimony in a discrimination case where a UTC officer told on the record that "black people don't like white people", makes me wonder what the heck is going on there. It seems stupidity, insensitivity, arrogance and racial profiling are NOT limited to white police officers.

April 25, 2009 at 11:21 p.m.
cave_demon said...

typical move by the Times Nazi-Press. They removed all of the pro-student posts and left only the pro-pig posts. I didn't know that the TFP was above the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but apparently they are. "No views will be allowed to be expressed on the TFP website unless they conform to the extreme rigt-wing, fascist ideals of rednecks and conservatives". I thougt this was the USA. It sounds more like North Korea to me.

April 26, 2009 at 6:01 p.m.
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