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DPS investigates student complaint related to events at Schine Student Center last Sunday

The Department of Public Safety has opened an investigation in response to a complaint that officers used excessive force during the incident at the Schine Student Center last Sunday, said DPS Associate Chief John Sardino on Tuesday.

“If we find out that excessive force was used, it’s not something that we tolerate,” he said. “That would be a serious matter.”

Sardino said he expected the investigation to take several days, in which the officer who heard the complaint interviews the person who filed the complaint, as well as others involved in the incident. This is done to clarify the facts of the incident, he said, especially as the person making a complaint sometimes does not see an entire interaction. 

“I want this investigation to be done fully and completely as possible,” Sardino said.

One official complaint has been filed, Sardino said, and DPS has also received one anonymous complaint.

First Deputy Chief David Barrette of the Syracuse Police Department said no complaints had been filed with SPD.

The circumstances surrounding the complaints lie in the fights that broke out during a dance party at Schine last Sunday. Students who attended the event said the chaos of the fights and attempts to clear more than 800 people from an auditorium in 15 minutes elicited pushing and shoving from students, DPS and Syracuse police officers who came to assist.

Although the doors to Goldstein Auditorium opened at 11:30 p.m., most attendees of “Faded,” a dance party organized collaboratively by the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, arrived after midnight, said John Hayden, a freshman architecture student who attended the party. When doors officially closed at 12:30 a.m., the auditorium was crowded with partygoers, he said.

A live DJ filled the space with rap and hip-hop songs, Hayden said. Everyone seemed to be having fun and getting along, he said, until the party had nearly ended.

At about 1:45 a.m., just before the party’s scheduled end at 2:00 a.m., other partygoers jostled Hayden and his friends. When he turned to find a reason for the pushing, Hayden said he saw approximately five people fighting in the center of the room. More joined the fight, forming a “giant mob of people.”

“(The fight) started toward the stairs and it kind of moved to the right,” said Chanell Chebuske, an undecided freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences who also attended the party. “After that, it seemed to be more than one fight.”

As the fighting escalated, attendees congregated against the walls so that only students engaged in the fights occupied the center of the floor, Hayden said.

Several attendees tried to break up the fights, he said, and the DJ stopped the music and called for an end to the confrontations. But so many people were involved in various fights that as soon as one person calmed down and disengaged from an altercation, another would become upset and initiate a fight again, Hayden said.

Sardino, of DPS, said approximately 40 or 50 people engaged in some sort of pushing and shoving at the height of the fighting.

Six officers, the typical number for an event of this size in Goldstein, had been assigned to the party, Sardino said. As the fighting escalated, these officers turned on the lights and stepped in to break up the fights.

But Chebuske, the freshman who attended the party, said there was not much DPS could do to quell the fighting.

“A lot of the guys fighting were really big. It took more than two DPS men to get them down,” she said, adding that other students were also proactive in trying to control those engaged in the fighting.

Seeing they were unable to control the situation, the officers called for assistance from other DPS officers and SPD, Sardino said. At the highest point, more than 20 or 25 officers from both organizations were on the scene, he said.

Sardino said DPS used pepper spray inside the auditorium on students who had been separated multiple times and still continued to fight.

When those causing the disruption refused to stop, Sardino said DPS decided shutting down the dance party would be in everyone’s best interests. He said while students expressed no resistance to this decision, there was some panic and congestion near the doors as approximately 850 students tried to leave the auditorium at the same time.

The situation was chaotic as DPS shouted and pushed students toward the doors, Chebuske said. Many were still trying to figure out what was happening, while others were trying to find friends or belongings in the coat rack next to the door. Coats lay all over the floor, and Chebuske said she was afraid to bend down to find her own for fear of being knocked down by the jostling crowd.

Another fight broke out by the door, she said, adding to the chaos.

While Chebuske said DPS’ presence helped to control the situation, she said officers were quickly trying to get students out of the room.

“I think they were just really impatient,” she said. “To be honest, I think they used unnecessary force on the wrong people. They were yelling at us, but we were just getting our coats.”

Officers cleared the auditorium in about 15 minutes, Sardino said, although fights continued in the area between Schine and E.S. Bird Library. No pepper spray was used outside, he said, and only physical force was used to separate those who continued to fight.

Fewer people were involved in the fights outside, Hayden said, and the fights were less intense.

By the time the entire incident had been broken up, eight students were arrested outside Schine. Several of these students have said they were not involved in the fighting.

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