Altercation at Campus Center Party, Police Arrest Two
Michelle S. Lee '16 Veronica Brown '16 Anya Gruber '16 Editor-in-Chief & Associate Editors
A party in the Campus Center Carroll Room hosted by the Smith African and Caribbean Students’ Association (SACSA) on Oct. 4 was shut down due to reports of fighting and belligerent behavior. The shutdown resulted in a crowd of several hundred people gathering at the junction of Elm Street and Henshaw Avenue, between the Campus Center and Cutter-Ziskind.
Two men, ages 23 and 26, of Springfield, Mass. and Meriden, Conn., were arrested before a team of Campus Police, Northampton Police, Easthampton Police and Massachusetts State Police could disperse the crowd.
Around 12:30 a.m., “I saw a swarm of people come out from the Carroll Room screaming that there was a fight. They were screaming at me, asking, ‘Where’s the police?’” said Madison Laethem ’17, who was working as a Campus Center Party Manager for the event. After going in the Carroll Room, other students approached Laethem to tell her that another fight had taken place. “I never actually saw a fight, but people were screaming,” said Laethem. The Campus Police officer assigned to the party was occupied by checking on an emergency exit alarm elsewhere in the Campus Center.
Attendees indicated to party managers that male guests were physically and verbally harassing women. The venue, which had reached maximum capacity at 500 people, was reportedly composed of mostly non-Smith students from neighboring colleges and other guests who were accompanied by a Smith student.
“Our automatic reaction was, ‘We have to shut this down,’” said Laethem. “We were ushering people out, and people were asking why Campus Police wasn’t coming out. I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was this needed to be over.”
Smith Campus Police officers arrived at the scene at 1:05 a.m. Campus Police logs indicate the party was shut down at 1:20 a.m., and attendees were led out to the street. By 1:30 a.m., a large crowd had gathered at the corner of Henshaw Avenue and Elm Street, where multiple small fights began to break out.
Local authorities requested the assistance of the Easthampton Police Department and Massachusetts State Police at 1:25 a.m., following confirmation of a larger crowd than anticipated.
“With a group of 400-500 people and six police officers, we needed more assistance to quell a disturbance of that size,” said Captain of Operations John D. Cartledge, citing agreements with Easthampton Police and State Police to call for assistance handling crowds of that size. Because the fight occurred on city-owned streets, not on Smith property, the incident was under the jurisdiction of the Northampton Police Department.
In addition to Campus Police, there were seven Northampton Police Officers, two State Troopers and four Easthampton Police Officers at the scene.
Campus Police initially estimated the crowd to be upwards of 70 people, but upon arrival, Northampton police officers estimated the number was closer to 400 to 500 people. Laethem confirmed, “There were definitely 500 people at the party,” which was at capacity at the time of the fight. He noted, “Many people were not from Smith ... Most of the women I saw, I didn’t recognize.”
“I expected it to be a pretty uneventful night, [but] that’s not what it was shaping up to be,” Laethem said. A large group of people remained outside as the party managers continued to clear the Campus Center, preventing re-entry into the building. Due to safety reasons, some were allowed to stay inside, including a “young man who had been attacked [and] had a gash on his head,” according to Laethem.
A group of bystanders told the police they saw a man wielding a knife, but investigations by Northampton Police did not produce a suspect or any reports of weapons-related assault.
Police records confirm the use of “force options” including pepper spray and batons. As officers arrived on the scene, some attendees attempted to break up fights themselves and restrained some of those involved while others were still engaged in scattered fights. Officers warned those on the premises that fighting would result in the use of pepper spray and arrest.
Upon the use of pepper spray, members in the crowd yelled “mace” and began to flee the scene, according to Northampton Police logs. Onlookers returning to the Campus Center reported to Laethem “that there [was] pepper spray, [and the police] had batons and were slamming people into the hoods of the cars.”
At 1:39 a.m., two men were arrested. The arrest of one man involved an officer striking him with a baton at least twice, then followed by hand combat. Thirty minutes after placing the men in custody, crowds had dispersed, but Northampton police officers remained on the scene until approximately 2:19 a.m.
Northampton Police logs noted that the response required the attention of so many police officers on duty that “Northampton, Easthampton and State Police areas were uncovered for up to an hour during the busiest time on a Saturday night.”
“The chain of command is workable,” Graham said, but moving forward from this incident, Campus Police plans to think of different ways to staff parties and work more closely with local police departments.
No injuries were officially reported to the authorities, but Laethem pointed out that many attendees were intoxicated, and, “When you’re drunk, you won’t necessarily go to the police and indicate your injuries.”
After word of the incident spread throughout campus, many students were troubled by the events. Social Justice and Equity Representatives reached out to house communities in case any students needed to talk about their concerns.