Utah officers cleared in spraying of haka dancers

AP News
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Posted: Nov 02, 2011 3:25 PM
Utah officers cleared in spraying of haka dancers

Police officers who used pepper spray and batons on a group of dancers after a high school football game in Roosevelt, Utah, have been cleared of any wrongdoing in a report released Wednesday.

Departmental policy and state law were followed by the two officers, investigators concluded in the internal probe. While the officers could have used "alternative methods of keeping the peace and security," the "totality of the circumstances" justified their actions.

No disciplinary actions or criminal charges are expected. But police officials said officers in the town of about 8,000 people will be given additional training in cultural diversity and customs.

Investigators said the dancers could have avoided any problems if they had told police about their plans beforehand.

The report stemmed from an Oct. 20 incident following a high school football game in Roosevelt, when a group of about a dozen people began performing the traditional haka dance. The group had traveled about 125 miles east 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.

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.

The two officers unsuccessfully attempted to disperse performers who were blocking an exit before using pepper spray and batons.

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The group had traveled about 125 miles east from the Salt Lake City area to watch a relative play his final game for Union, which lost at home to rival Uintah and finished the season without a victory.

The group reportedly was trying to boost Union's morale with the haka as the players left the field.

Roosevelt Police Chief Rick Harrison declined to comment further Wednesday, although he told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that the part-time officers had never seen the haka dance before the game. He also said the situation was more complex than the group simply blocking an exit but refused to elaborate.

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Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin