No charges yet as police, WVU investigate snow-day block party

MORGANTOWN — As city and WVU authorities continued reviewing Friday’s raucous block party on North Spruce Street, Morgantown police chief Ed Preston said “there’s weeks of work still left to be done on this.”

WVU police and the Office of Student Conduct are reviewing information and various videos, University spokesperson John Bolt said. It’s too early to know if reviews will trigger changes to policy or disciplinary action.

“With every review, the university seeks to improve the safety of our students,” Bolt said. “A review allows for a more complete understanding of what occurred and aids in planning for any future incidents.”

Alumni and parents offered mixed reactions to Friday’s event, which gathered national attention. Some believe the students were just taking advantage of canceled classes to have fun in the snow. Others think the crowd went too far by blocking snow plows, hurling bottles at police and refusing to disperse when officers asked.

Preston said no charges have been filed yet. He said policies and use of force procedures are also under review.

Critics on social media claim police overreacted after videos showed police shooting pepper balls at the crowd.

“We used about as minimal force as we could possibly use,” Preston said. “We didn’t go hands-on, no shields, no nightsticks, we kept it at a very low level.”

The gathering eventually thinned out after police used two smoke grenades and a long-range acoustic device — a directional loud speaker that emits an annoying noise.

The department’s use of force will undergo multiple levels of review, Preston said. First, the department will look to see if the use of force was lawful. Then, to see if it followed the department’s policy and finally to see if officer training addresses the situation.

“Was it a violation or a policy failure? Was it something we forgot to train? There are a number of levels of review,” Preston said.

MPD officers did fire pepper balls while taking cover behind a snow plow to “cover the retreat of other workers and officers in the area,” a city press release read. The officers only fired at buildings, from where projectiles — such as beer and liquor bottles — were being thrown, it said. The pepper balls were shot above the crowd, so the powder could fall onto it, according to the release.

WVU Police requested MPD’s assistance about 3 p.m. on Friday, after hundreds of people gathered on North Spruce Street and refused to move so the road could be salted and plowed by the Morgantown Public Works Department, a MPD press release stated.

Students, and perhaps other young adults, were sledding, snowboarding and drinking.

MPD attempted to escort the plow through the people, but they began throwing things at officers, the release said. The incident was declared a riot by MPD at 3:50 p.m. All available units were requested and additional officers from UPD, MPD and the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department responded.

Sheriff Perry Palmer said he does not know of any of deputies using force, suggesting body camera footage from would be available to any investigating department.

When the loud speaker was first used, some partygoers started a street fire. The loud noise was played again and about half the crowd left.

Those remaining were confrontational and continued adding to the fire and throwing items at officers, a release.

When the smoke grenades were used, the rest of the crowd left and the fire was extinguished.

Though some students complained of tear gas, Preston said none was used.

“If we were going to use chemical munitions we’re not going to contaminate ourselves,” he said, noting the lack of gas masks worn by police.

Preston said he’d like to coordinate an after-action discussion with Palmer and University police chief W.P. Chedester.

A group of students, including brothers of the Sigma Nu fraternity, spent part of Sunday cleaning Spruce Street. Bolt said that kind of responsible behavior is more typical of the larger student body.

“Those participating on Sunday demonstrated the more prevalent commitment to being good neighbors and good citizens of the university and Morgantown communities.”

Twitter @WillDean_DP

WDean@DominionPost.com

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