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Indiana police review video from IUPatty's Day

by on March 21, 2014 11:00 AM

More arrests for rowdy behavior during the IUPatty’s Day celebrations in Indiana are possible, this time with amateur video as evidence.

Sgt. William Vojtek of the Indiana Borough Police Department told Indiana council’s Public Safety Committee Thursday that investigators have obtained the original video taken March 8 by an amateur videographer of young people fighting, blocking traffic and climbing on a car along South Seventh Street and Wayne Avenue. The videographer gave the video to television news programs for broadcast.

Vojtek said the video could be the basis for arrest warrants for five people who could be identified in the video. The charges, he said, may include felony counts of rioting.

It would not be the first time incriminating video has been used in criminal prosecutions in Indiana. Vojtek said police used video to prosecute rowdy and destructive revelers who took to the streets following one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victories.

[PHOTO: Indiana Police Chief William Sutton.  (Gazette file photo)]

Council members Thursday complimented officers from Indiana Borough and Indiana University of Pennsylvania for their handling of the thousands of young people on the streets and sidewalks for the early St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the potentially volatile situations that resulted.

Council President Nancy Jones said she received many positive comments from borough residents on the police officers’ actions that three-day weekend.

“You took an explosive situation and defused it,” Councilman Tom Thompson, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, told the officers who were present.

Councilman Donald Lancaster, a committee member, said he drove down South Seventh Street in the late afternoon of March 8. His wife was following him in another vehicle but they were separated when the crowds of young people swelled onto the street and blocked traffic.

“It was scary. … You guys handled it really well,” Lancaster told the officers.

Jones also thanked Sam Clutter, IUP security director, for the assistance campus police gave.

Clutter said today’s communications technology helps hundreds of young people mobilize and congregate quickly at one location, creating a challenge for the few available police officers trying to maintain order.

“We like working with the borough. We like combining our efforts,” Clutter said.

In a comment directed to Robin Gorman, executive assistant and chief of staff to IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll, Councilman Larry DeChurch said the IUPatty’s Day partying got a lot of bad publicity in regional news media.

DeChurch said if he was the parent of a child looking for a university to attend, the partying would make him think twice about choosing IUP.

“This really reflects negatively on IUP,” DeChurch said, adding that he hopes the bad publicity does not affect the university’s future enrollment.

“I’d like to think the majority of our students are as concerned as we are,” Gorman replied, adding that university administrators have accepted an offer to have the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Indiana County Emergency Management Agency assist in planning ways to better control future St. Patrick’s Day celebrations by students.

Gorman said it’s possible EMA will reach out to community partners to participate in the planning.

“That’s our hope,” Gorman said. “We (the university) can’t do it alone. … We’ve got to get a handle on this. … If we let this go, what’s next? That’s the concern.”

Council President Jones said she was encouraged that five landlords of student rental properties have contacted her and offered to meet with council to develop a strategy for preventing repeats of this spring’s IUPatty’s Day disturbances.

In his report to the committee, Police Chief William Sutton said the outdoor celebrations by young people two weekends ago had “a high potential of getting out of hand.” The high alcohol consumption combined with the large crowds created “a potentially very dangerous situation.”

Sutton reiterated that the goal of the officers on duty was not to arrest as many people as possible but to contain the situation, keep control and prevent injuries. The people jailed were not put there for punishment but for their own safety, Sutton said. It was critical to keep as many officers on the streets as possible and they did not have time to care for the many highly intoxicated students and other young people.

According to the chief’s report, during the three-day IUPatty’s Day festivities Indiana Borough officers arrested 107 people, 96 of them on summary citations and 11 with criminal complaints. Of 138 charges filed, 71 were against IUP students.

Sutton said IUP police arrested 52 people, 35 of whom were not IUP students, and state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement officers issued eight citations for underage drinking, including two for IUP students.

The chief said he has not received a statistical summary of arrests made by state troopers who assisted in Indiana that weekend.

Sutton said that in the past two years the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have taken on a “homecoming-like atmosphere” and police preparations for future St. Patrick’s Day events will likely include “homecoming-like operational planning.” That, Sutton said, may include requests for more officers from other municipal police departments and the use of state troopers mounted on horses, which has proven effective in controlling and dispersing crowds in the past.



Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is rwells@indianagazette.net.
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