University of Maryland campus police used pepper spray early Saturday, May 22, to try to close down a loud party at a student apartment. Two arrests were made. (WUSA9)

The University of Maryland’s president promised a complete and transparent investigation of whether campus police used excessive force in breaking up a graduation party made up mostly of black students over the weekend, after officers used pepper spray and arrested two people to disperse a crowd celebrating graduation in College Park.

On social media, some people reacted with surprise that pepper spray would be used to break up a party. Some complained that the officers would not have responded so forcefully to a group of white students, and said that unsafe fraternity parties were routinely ignored.

Katherine Swanson, the president of the student body, said reaction had been unified: Shock, and concern. A fraternity leader had told her, she said, that student government needed to do something because “this would never happen at one of our parties.” Even though students have gone home, for the most part, for the summer, she has gotten many messages of, “really, I think, just shock. All the students have the same reaction: This is so awful.”

Wallace Loh, the president of U-Md., acknowledged the concern on social media.

And he released a statement.

This statement is in response to an incident that occurred on Saturday, May 21, 2016 at The Courtyards at the University of Maryland:

Reviewing this incident swiftly and fairly is of great importance to the university and for me personally. I met with the University of Maryland Chief of Police earlier today and reviewed video footage of the incident at police headquarters. I continue to expect a comprehensive report in the days ahead, and I remain committed to a process that is transparent and just for everyone involved.

On Saturday, campus police issued a statement explaining their response to a complaint, at about 1:45 a.m., of a loud party with a report of a possible fight inside an apartment. When officers arrived, they were flagged down by people in the parking lot and told there was a fight inside and that someone might have a baseball bat.

Officers told people inside to leave the party numerous times, according to the statement, but not all complied, and a large group remained. More officers were requested. At one point, “an officer was surrounded by people in the hallway and pepper spray was used.” Two arrests were made as officers continued to clear out the large group. The fire department arrived to treat people who had been sprayed, but after a confrontation broke out in the parking lot, officers used pepper spray again.

After an initial review, a formal investigation is underway to determine whether the use of force was appropriate, according to the statement, and both the president and the chief of the University of Maryland Police Department “are committed to a complete and transparent investigation to determine the facts of the incident.”

Some responded with skepticism.

Swanson was appreciative that the chief of police met with her and was concerned, and expressed trust in their investigation.

A spokeswoman for the police department could not be reached for  comment Monday.

On Sunday night, the department issued an updated statement about the investigation with more information about the initial 911 call, in which the dispatcher was told there was a fight and underage drinking at the apartment. The statement said that video footage from cameras the officers were wearing appeared to show that officers were told in the parking lot that a lot of people were inside and that some were fighting. When an officer asked if any weapons were involved, “someone mentioned they saw someone with a bat.”

The department will release audio and video footage to the public, campus police said, and they asked for patience as they work through the investigation.


Police used pepper spray at a party at the University of Maryland. (Courtesy of WUSA9)