Police, partiers clash in Madison

Police estimated close to 75,000 people were at the Halloween festivities in Madison.

Kent Erdahl

Many University students were among those participating in Halloween festivities this weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Police estimated that approximately 75,000 people visited Madison, Wis., mostly college students, to participate in what’s becoming an annual tradition of drinking, partying and destructive rioting.

Police arrested approximately 450 people between Friday night and Sunday morning.

In a press conference Sunday, Madison authorities said they believe Minnesota residents were the second-most arrested, behind Wisconsin residents.

The number of University of Minnesota students arrested will be released today.

At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, approximately 5,000 people were estimated to be on a one-block stretch of State Street, a pedestrian-only street lined with bars, restaurants and shops.

Partiers and police officers clashed at approximately 2 a.m., when revelers ignited a small fire in the middle of the street.

Flood lights installed for the weekend were immediately turned on, as police in riot gear cleared the area for the next two hours, often using pepper spray.

According to Madison police, there were few signs of property damage and no reports of significant physical injuries during the melee.

Madison officials estimated $100,000 in property damage was reported in 2003.

Caught in the pepper spray, Alderman Mike Verveer, a Madison City Council representative for the campus and downtown area, saw the scene Sunday morning.

“It’s a disappointment that I and thousands of others haven’t been able to breathe without difficulty for the last hour,” he said.

Verveer said this year’s events weren’t as bad as in the past, and police were ready to react to possible problems.

Students and others questioned the authorities’ response, claiming police overreacted when clearing people from the area where the fire started.

“There was a huge push and I couldn’t control anything,” said University of Minnesota student Dave Wiebelhaus. “They could have easily stopped the fire earlier or told people to stop, but instead they let the situation build up.”

David Cappell, a University of Minnesota applied economics student, said he didn’t want to participate in destructive behavior but liked watching it.

“I think it’s just a bunch of drunk college students going nuts,” he said. “When they try to stop it, it instigates it even more.”

In the past, University of Wisconsin graduate Katie Colbert said, she blamed students from other schools for causing riots. Police caused the problem this year, she said.

“I didn’t see a riot, I didn’t see anything,” Colbert said. “I left the bar, and I literally walked out and everybody was pepper-sprayed in my group.”

People who were arrested were asked to identify which college they attended, Madison authorities said, to seek further disciplinary action.

Jerry Rinehart, the University of Minnesota associate vice provost for the Office of Student Affairs, said the University of Minnesota cannot discipline students apprehended in Madison during the weekend.

“We understand that the student conduct code does not apply to non-University of Minnesota related activities, so there really isn’t a disciplinary action that we can take,” Rinehart said.

Last year, Rinehart said, three University of Minnesota students were identified for participating in the Halloween riots. The University of Minnesota responded by sending a warning letter to the students, he said.

“We have their names on file, and we would do the same with any students involved this year.”

– Daily staff members and The Associated Press contributed to this report.