Preston discusses Spruce Street riot response with Morgantown Council

MORGANTOWN — Asked what WVU and the City of Morgantown could do to prevent a repeat of last Friday’s riot conditions on Spruce Street, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston basically said, not much.

“That’s an individual choice. When people choose to commit a crime or commit a violent act, there’s nothing any of us can do to prevent that. What happens is …  they think they’re anonymous because they’re in a group, building their confidence, and that’s coupled with alcohol consumption.”

Officers ended up needing pepper balls, a Long Range Acoustic Device and smoke grenades to clear hundreds of students from the street after WVU canceled classes due to weather.

When police and public works crews attempted to clear the street, Preston said hundreds of projectiles, including bottles and rocks, were thrown at them.

The incident ended up making national headlines, garnering coverage by outlets like The Washington Post.

Preston admitted that videos online of officers firing pepper balls over the crowd look bad on the surface. But, he continued, it’s because of those assets and hard-earned lessons learned by local law enforcement that there was only one reported injury.

“It’s because of the lessons learned from conditions we’ve dealt with in the past,” Preston said recalling the Oct. 18, 2014 riot following a football victory over Baylor. “We didn’t have any of this gear, and we had 19 people end up going to the hospital with injuries as a result.”

Preston also addressed rumors circulating online that police used rubber bullets, noting the MPD doesn’t have or use such projectiles.

City Councilor Ryan Wallace said he was “really, really shocked” by the attitude  of many he’s seen posting online.

“It’s the defense and encouragement of what is categorically illegal behavior. Not from the people who are necessarily participating in it, but from middle-aged folk who remember the glory days of Sunnyside who ‘just really want to let the kids have some fun,’ and are generating anger at the police,” Wallace said.

Preston appeared with Ron Justice, representing WVU. Both said the city and university are working together, along with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, to review the incident and identify criminal behavior.

In other city news, the 2019 paving list was presented.

It will include just under four miles of city streets at an estimated cost of $1.8 million in user fee funds.

On the list are portions of: Baldwin Street, Deckers Avenue, E. Brockway Avenue, Falling Run Road, Greet Street, Junior Avenue, Kingwood Street, Kirk Street, Listravia Avenue, North Street, Spruce Street, Sturgiss Street, Wilson Avenue, Avalon Street, Jacob Street, Evansdale Drive and Rawley Avenue.

City Manager Paul Brake said the city intends to put the project up for bid earlier than usual in an attempt to get the best possible price for the work.

The list is based on a five-year paving plan built on the work of Washington D.C.-based Dynatest, which tested and graded all the city’s streets in May 2017.

Also on Tuesday, council approved the creation of a financial transparency website similar to the OpenGov site recently created by the Monongalia County Commission.

The city will contract with ClearGov for a subscription cost of $9,500, plus a one-time set up fee of $3,500.

“The starting day, hopefully if all goes well, we’ll be shooting for April 1,” Brake said.

Lastly, it was reported that an audit of the city’s finance department and  financial records performed by Tetrick and Bartlett came back with no findings, which is the best possible outcome.

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