By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010; B01
A raucous celebration after the University of Maryland men's basketball team's win over Duke has left 28 people facing criminal charges and sparked an intense debate between police and students over how and when it is appropriate to break up a group of revelers.
Hundreds of students and other revelers swarmed Route 1 after the Terrapins beat their conference rival at Comcast Center on Wednesday night -- a common occurrence after a big win by the basketball team. They sang and cheered over their team's success and were greeted by dozens of Prince George's County and other police officers, some in full riot gear, intent on clearing the street.
That much is undisputed. Little else is.
By night's end, the 28 people, which included 23 U-Md. students, had been arrested and charged. Five people, including one police officer who was punched in the face, had been treated at a hospital and released. Police said those injuries were minor.
The incident was probably less serious than the melee after the university's Final Four loss to Duke in 2001, when a mob started fires and caused about $500,000 in damage. It also was less severe than in 2002, after the team's national championship victory, when at least 17 people were arrested, six police cars were damaged and three state troopers injured. But it was probably more serious than the revelry after the women's national championship victory over Duke in 2006, when there were no arrests or reports of property destruction.
Police said their response was informed by past experience. This time, Prince George's Police Chief Roberto Hylton said, officers were stationed around the Route 1 area in College Park, waiting for the revelers. Although he declined to provide specific personnel numbers, Hylton said the Prince George's Police Department, the University of Maryland Police and the Maryland-National Capital Park Police had developed a plan for Wednesday night's game. In 2001, when Hylton was commander of the district station that includes College Park, officials were criticized for not preparing enough. Hylton conceded at the time that the department should have used "some measure of additional force."
According to several eyewitnesses, the officers approached the crowd late Wednesday and early Thursday with a flair for the dramatic, banging clubs against their riot shields as they slowly moved forward. Those revelers who didn't move -- and even some who did -- were pushed, struck with clubs or shot with pepper spray or pepper balls, the witnesses said. One witness said a young man trying to put on his shoe was punched in the throat and told he was going to jail.
"It was like a war zone or something," said Kerry Kramer, a freshman computer science major who headed to Route 1 to try to get some food after the game. "You just would hear like the shots going off, and you would just like start running because you didn't want to get hit."
Police offered a different account. The crowd of revelers, Hylton said, was "large, unruly and destructive." A group surrounded a bus and tried to flip it. Two trash cans and a tree were set ablaze. Street signs were ripped from the ground. One person punched an officer in the face; others threw chunks of ice and snow at officers.
"This was just totally unacceptable," Hylton said. "We don't need to celebrate in that manner."
The department declined to release names of those arrested and the exact charges against them because they were misdemeanors. Prince George's police spokeswoman Misty Mints said that most were probably charged with disorderly conduct and that all were released unless they had open warrants.
In a prepared statement, U-Md. spokesman Millree Williams said there were "several incidents representing poor judgment on the part of those participating in the postgame celebration," and school policies allow for the suspension or expulsion of students for "riot-related behavior" whether or not they have been convicted in criminal court.
"The postgame behavior of some students is inconsistent with the high standards -- in academics, attitudes and in behaviors -- that we have set at the University of Maryland College Park," Williams said in the statement. "We will not let the poor behavior of a few taint the good behavior of many."
Each of the seven witnesses interviewed for this story said the police response in some cases went too far. Video footage aired by WUSA (Channel 9) showed what appears to be an officer ramming a night stick into a young man's head, although what happened before that is unclear.
Paul Adler, 21, of Short Hills, N.J., was among about 40 students who gathered in front of the Arts-Sociology building Thursday to protest the incident. Adler said he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct although he did little more than make a "snarky" comment to an officer. That officer, he said, later "tackled me like football-style, and ripped off my necklaces and cuffed me." He now worries that he might be expelled.
"I'm hoping they don't take action, especially with such an unwarranted arrest," Adler said.
Paul Dillon, a spokesman for university police, said some revelers burned a tree, then set fire to trash cans in another location. A witness said one student set a Duke jersey on fire and appeared to set off fireworks.
"It's pretty ridiculous. It's immature," Dillon said.
Hylton confirmed that officers used batons, pepper spray and pepper balls to disperse the crowd. He said that his preliminary review of the incident showed no excessive use of force but that investigators will continue to review videos to determine any wrongdoing by either revelers or officers.