An officer for the Los Rios Police Department shot pepper spray into a crowd of spectators at a high school football game Friday night – prompting a complaint from one of the high schools and a review by the community college police department.
The officer deployed his pepper spray after a fight broke out in the section of bleachers occupied by fans of Sacramento Charter High School, which was playing Folsom High School at Hughes Stadium at Sacramento City College. The incident was captured by a photographer shooting the game for The Sacramento Bee, along with a television crew for a local TV station.
Jake Mossawir, CEO of St. Hope Public Schools, which runs Sacramento High, complained that the officer did not use the pepper spray on a specific person but rather a group of people in the vicinity of the fight.
He said that he and members of his staff were breaking up the fight at the time, and that the combatants were from other schools and did not attend Sacramento High or Folsom.
Mossawir said he and his staff, as well as audience members who sat near where the fight broke out, were hit with the brunt of the pepper spray while the students involved in the fight ran away.
“We had a disabled veteran who couldn’t move away before the spray,” Mossawir said. “If the individuals who are responsible ultimately got away and the innocent staff and attendees were the ones that got sprayed, was it actually effective?”
Gabe Ross, a spokesman for the Los Rios Community College, said the district police department would review the incident. The Sacramento City College campus, along with other campuses in the Los Rios College District, are policed by the Los Rios Police Department.
The fight happened during the second quarter of a varsity football game between the Sacramento High Dragons and the Folsom High School Bulldogs. The charter uses Hughes Stadium a few times every year to host nighttime games because its facilities aren’t equipped with lights and aren’t big enough to host the crowd that was expected for Friday night’s game, Mossawir said.
Although no one hit by the pepper spray was taken to the hospital, medical staff at the scene did examine one person after the incident. Mossawir said that spectator was a teenage boy who was experiencing breathing problems.
The Los Rios Police Department did not make any arrests in connection to the fight, Ross said.
The college’s police officers are told to use control devices like pepper spray, expendable batons and tear gas in situations where they want to “arrest a violent or threatening suspect” and when it “appears reasonable under the circumstances,” according to the Los Rios Community College Police Department Policy Manual. The use of such tools is intended to reduce the number of injuries to both officers and suspects when police try to detain violent or potentially violent people.
The policy manual does not include any information about about using pepper spray on large crowds, though it does mandate that officers who use the control devices document that use in connected arrest or use-of-force reports.
The department is talking to witnesses who attended the game and compiling a report of the incident, Ross said. He did not have an estimated time for when the review would be completed and said he did not know whether the review’s findings will be made public.
“The Los Rios Police Department is committed to the safety of our campus communities, and the well-being of students and spectators is our highest priority,” he said Tuesday. “We have reached out to St. Hope to begin discussions about how we can work with them to ensure a safe environment for students and spectators at future events.”
Mossawir said he had spoken to Los Rios Community College District Chancellor Brian King and will wait to see how the district chooses to address Friday night’s incident. Sacramento Charter High will continue to use Hughes Stadium, with a game scheduled there at the end of October.
“We want to wait to see what comes out of the investigation,” he said. “We’re thankful for Sacramento City College. It’s a huge thing for our students to be able to play at that stadium.”
Colleges in California have previously dealt with controversies involving crowd control. UC Davis came under intense nationwide criticism and ridicule after campus police sprayed a group of student protesters back in November 2011. The school later contracted with media consultants to try to scrub the internet of negative online posts in connection to the incident, paying at least at least $175,000 to do so.
Anticipating potential trouble, the Berkeley City Council last week voted to allow city police to use pepper spray against violent protesters ahead of a planned speech at UC Berkeley by conservative political commentator and former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, The Associated Press reported. The use of pepper spray to control crowds was previously banned in 1997.