Utah officers feared riot when spraying dancers

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2011 3:42 PM
Utah officers feared riot when spraying dancers

Police officers who used pepper spray and batons on a group of dancers after a high school football game said their actions were appropriate because they feared a riot was imminent.

The officers' reports about the Oct. 20 incident in Roosevelt said some of the dancers had been yelling obscenities at referees during the game then danced in front of the only exit from the stadium, The Deseret News reported Wednesday.

Officer Luke Stradinger did apologize in his report for causing "discomfort" to innocent bystanders, including elderly fans and a 4-year-old boy.

The two officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal investigation.

The pepper spray was used on about a dozen people who had traveled about 125 miles from Salt Lake City to watch a relative play his final game for Union, which lost the game to rival Uintah and finished the season without a victory.

Afterward, the group performed the haka to boost the player's spirits.

A form of the haka has been popularized by rugby players in New Zealand who chant, beat their chests and gesture aggressively before matches.

The Maori tradition also can include fierce facial expressions. The haka is now performed at football and rugby games around the world.

Stradinger said he wasn't familiar with the dance and was concerned because the group was blocking the only exit from the field for the football teams.

"I have never seen such an event, or even heard of such a thing," Stradinger said.

While Stradinger used pepper spray, Officer Wade Butterfield used a baton to disperse the group. Butterfield said he became worried during the game because some of the people were yelling obscenities at the referees and acting in an unsportsmanlike manner.

"I have seen a riot firsthand and know how dangerous they can be in an instant," Butterfield said. "At the time I perceived the actions of these individuals as aggressive and threatening. I had no idea that (their) blockage of the exit was for any other reason than to riot."

Butterfield, who said he was hit by something in his right eye, defended the actions that he and Stradinger took.

"No more force was used than was necessary to defuse the situation," Butterfield said.

No criminal charges are expected against the officers. However, police in the eastern Utah town of about 8,000 people will be given additional training in cultural diversity and customs.

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Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com