Police react to JMU Springfest violence

Crowd of 8,000 damage surrounding property; officers arrest 20 to 30 people, use pepper spray, foam batons


Riots erupted at James Madison University's annual "Springfest" party Saturday when gatherers began throwing beer cans and bottles. Harrisonburg civil disturbance officers dressed in full riot gear used pepper spray, tear gas and foam batons to disperse the crowd. According to officials, between 20 and 30 people were arrested.

Held in a field between two rows of apartments known as "The Row," the open-air party usually sees between 1,000 and 2,000 people, some of whom are not university students. This year, however, an estimated crowd of 8,000 attended, and many partygoers involved were not James Madison students. The crowd quickly became unruly.

James Madison senior Keenan Lofton was at a friend's apartment on "The Row" when violence began at about 2 p.m.

"People started throwing cans and bottles at each other and then throwing bottles at houses," he said. "That was going on for 45 minutes."

The violence escalated to the point where dumpsters were set on fire, car windows were shattered and some injured individuals were sent to the University Medical Center for treatment.

Police officials had lined up throughout the field earlier in the day in a preemptive effort to discourage disorderly behavior. The officers, who were dressed in riot gear, then took action on the crowds around 3 p.m.\nIt is possible the presence of the police officers who were fully dressed in riot gear could have provoked more violence.\n"I think the cops did fuel extra anger from the students, which caused them to throw bottles at [the police]," JMU sophomore Samantha Terraforte said. "This gave them a reason to use tear gas, which just caused more chaos."\nPolice officials disagreed, however, justifying their intervention by the degree of violence and civil disruption.\n"As the crowd grew, we received complaints about property damage and injuries. The property manager also asked us to get involved," Harrisonburg Police Lt. Kurt Boshart said.\nBoshart said the department will conduct an after-action report and critique the involvement of the officers.\n"What we really want to know," he said, "is how can we avoid even getting involved. Usually it's well out of control by the time we get involved."\nAround 6 p.m., the police sent a mass text message to the James Madison student body, which asked non-residents of the area to cease events immediately for safety reasons. The riots eventually settled down, but not before crowds inflicted thousands of dollars worth of property damage.\nJames Madison President Linwood H. Rose sent an e-mail to the student body the following day in which he acknowledged the fact that most James Madison students were not involved, but reprimanded those who were.\n"To those of you who were involved, your collective behavior was an embarrassment to your university and a discredit to our reputation," the e-mail read.\nWian Vb, who began a Facebook group in response to the riots, agreed that the incident reflects poorly on the university. He believes, however, that many of the instigators were not JMU students.\n"It's sad that the actions of a few people can affect the image of a whole university," he said.

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