Hockey fans, police clash in U area post-game riots

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Sunday morning, the buildings and streets near campus were largely unblemished. A tipped-over trash can, upturned newspaper machine, broken bus bench and shards of glass in the streets were about the only tangible signs of Saturday night’s violence.

But many of the bruises and breaks suffered when a crowd of approximately 1,000 people – mostly students – clashed with more than 150 state and city police seem bound to leave more permanent scars.

A mob of students jammed the streets around campus after the Gophers clinched their first NCAA hockey title in 23 years, buoyed by alcohol and excitement.

State, city and University police officers with riot helmets and sticks were there to meet them in Dinkytown.

“I was just standing there singing the rouser and I got maced,” said freshman biology student Kyle Schmitz.

Police blocked the streets shortly after the victory, and students milled about Dinkytown fairly peacefully. But tension escalated when some people began breaking bottles and throwing rocks. Police responded with eye and skin irritants.

Minneapolis police said Sunday they made 25 arrests Saturday night, while University police made none.

Several officers ran down a man trying to flee them on University Avenue Southeast and choked him with a riot stick while he screamed, “Please don’t kill me.”

Until approximately 4:30 Sunday morning, police – brandishing riot sticks – and students clashed.

Minneapolis police spokesman Greg Nelson said police exhausted all other options before using force.

“First people were asked to start moving. If people don’t follow the request, we must use whatever force is necessary to open the trafficway,” he said.

Police pushed the rioters through the area, veining a wide swath of litter, glass and shouting wherever they went.

Crowds scattered from police advances, only to stop and reassemble moments later at a safe distance from the line of officers.

When officers were able to catch someone before they could run back into the crowd, groups of five or more policemen would charge off the line and surround the individual, punching and jabbing with clubs.

Some rioters threw beer cans or bottles, and several shouted obscenities at the officers.

At about 11 p.m., Minneapolis police Chief Robert Olson described the crowd as “happy Minnesotans,” and said he hoped they’d be “too happy to do anything mad.”

Olson said the department put several officers on call in case the Gophers won and students assembled in the streets.

“This is pretty minor,” Olson said of the mob. “In fact, several students have come up to me and apologized.”

In Stadium Village, students congregated near the Superblock. With a helicopter with a spotlight above but no police around, they vandalized streetlights and broke windows in Territorial and Centennial halls.

“I couldn’t do anything about it,” said Seth Nelsen, the community adviser on duty at Territorial Hall. “A few people can’t tell a mob to stop.”

The mob tore down a light post and shoved it through a window in Centennial Hall.

It was unclear exactly what police were spraying into crowds near Dinkytown. Lt. Bret Lindback, who was not at the scene, said officers regularly carry pepper spray.

“From what I heard, they were using other things than what I normally carry on my belt,” he said.

At times, police used so much spray that it painted the air with a cayenne fog, choking and burning the throats, eyes and noses of passersby far from its direct course.

Amalia Ellison watched as her boyfriend, Joren Erikson, was sprayed, kicked to the ground and beaten with riot sticks by Minneapolis police.

She said Erikson had just left work and had asked a nearby officer what was happening when he was beaten.

“We’re not intoxicated; we don’t even care about the game,” Ellison said. “He was knocked down, kicked and arrested for asking a question. What do I do now?”

Starting at approximately 1 a.m., police began advancing on the crowds in an effort to vacate the area. Police Chief Olson said police weren’t necessarily trying to “move” the crowd, but the officers didn’t want any harm done to area businesses.

But several students blamed police for the riot’s escalation.

“This is totally unnecessary,” said Scott Utne, a senior forest products marketing major. “Nobody’s been out of control this evening. All the hysteria that’s been started has been started by the riot police.”

Dave Johnson, a 2001 University graduate, said he was celebrating at the Library Bar and Grill after the game. A few hours after arriving, he said the entire first floor of the building was filled with eye and skin irritants.

“You can’t cross a street without a stick waved at you. Ninety-nine percent of the people here are happy the Gophers won the championship,” Johnson said. “If there were no police here, there would be a lot of people but no problems. There is only one variable causing this.”

“The guys with the big long sticks,” responded Johnson’s friend Sam Jacobs, a College of Liberal Arts sophomore.

After the bars closed, a mass of students crowded the corner of Fourth Street Southeast and 13th Avenue Southeast.

Attempting to break up the crowd, police unleashed a stream of spray. One individual, who appeared heavily intoxicated, climbed the traffic pole, and several officers rushed over and pulled him off. They pushed him to the ground, hitting him in the back and jabbing him in the ribs with the butts of their clubs.

Police formed a line across Fourth Street Southeast and would not let the crowd cross. Rioters shouted obscenities and jeers at the officers.

One individual approached the officers and began telling them they had no right to block the streets. After about five minutes, the officers lunged forward, tackling and beating the man.

By about 3:15 a.m., most of the crowd had melted into a mass on University Avenue Southeast near 16th Street, where several students had started a bonfire in the middle of the street.

Approximately seven students were standing and stomping on overturned dumpsters near the fire as the crowd around them cheered and set off firecrackers.

Finally, a fire truck showed up, and police marched toward the crowd.

Students ran from the officers onto side streets and further down University Avenue Southeast, sprinting to escape another battle with mace or pepper spray.

The officers cordoned off the blaze so firefighters could put it out.

Additional standoffs followed near University Avenue Southeast. Approximately 100 people gathered about 20 yards from a line of police officers on 16th Avenue Southeast.

Rioters verbally assaulted police with political taunts such as “Rodney King” or “police brutality” to University cheers. They threw more rocks, bottles and aluminum cans. Several men mooned the line of officers.

Police scrambled after people who stepped out of houses near the scene, commanding them back inside.

Several students said they were unable to get home because police had blocked the streets.

“We were scared to walk around campus,” said freshman Angela Medinger. “Not because of rapists, but because cops were going to mace us.”

By approximately 4 a.m., police had dissipated most of the rioters. They continued to patrol the streets, keeping residents on University Avenue inside houses or on porches.

“I went out to celebrate after they won,” said College of Natural Resources senior Kate Flitsch. “I celebrated, but I didn’t set the dumpsters on fire. This is insanity.”

Sunday morning, the three dumpsters around the bonfire – which attracted so many people hours earlier – sat on the corner of University and 16th Avenues Southeast in relative anonymity.

Their blackened sides were dented and charred, and they perfumed the corner like a foundry.

 

– Josh Linehan and Micah Johnson contributed to this report.

Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]
Travis Reed welcomes comments at [email protected]