Use of excessive force at ECU football game ‘sickening’

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, September 9, 2008

By Staff
University’s police chief distraught
Staff Writer
The excessive use of force by police officers and deputies following East Carolina University’s victory over West Virginia University at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday evening was “sickening in nature,” said ECU Police Chief Scott Shelton.
With complaints of excessive force by the police officers and deputies coming forward in the aftermath of the incident, Shelton held a press conference Monday afternoon at the Mendenhall Student Center to address the situation.
Investigator Curtis Hayes with the university’s department is investigating several isolated incidents where excessive force is being claimed. The department is trying to determine why the actions were taken by the accused and what agencies the accused are with.
At the press conference, Shelton said the department has determined that officers with the ECU Police Department, the City of Greenville Police Department, the Winterville Police Department and deputies with the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office were not involved in any of the publicized altercations. The other two agencies on the field were the City of Kinston Police Department and the Lenoir County Sheriff’s Office.
By the process of elimination, visual evidence caught on WITN and ESPN live broadcasts indicates that the accused were with either or both agencies, Shelton said.
As part of the university’s agreement with the agencies, disciplinary matters regarding personnel are handled within the appropriate agency.
As routine protocol, the department holds a briefing before each ECU home game to coordinate a security game plan.
After the initial briefing, the department holds a follow-up briefing with the outside agencies, including Kinston Police Department and Lenior County Sheriff’s Office.
The university’s chief of police made it clear that conditions during the game would be rowdy. He also reminded the agencies that there was a distinct possibility that fans would rush the field in the event of a win.
The officers and deputies were instructed to detain individuals if they chose to hop the fence.
As the visual evidence shows, a number of officers did not “back off” after the onslaught of fans.
As described by witness accounts, one officer or deputy was seen punching a detained fan, while several other jumped on top to secure the individual. There was also evidence of officers or deputies tackling fans and throwing fans to the ground, as Shelton said.
The university’s chief of police said that a total of three arrests were made, but only one was made during the storming of the field. The other two were made during the game.
He said that about 60 officers were on the field at the conclusion of the game.
Once the department’s investigation is complete, it will look at ways to improve security and make sure the incident does not happen again.
The chief of police questioned using agencies outside of the county.
Shelton, who was working his first game as the university’s chief of police, said he enjoyed the game, but not the aftermath.
Drew Griffin, president of ECU’s student body, was witness to officers man-handling fans, as well as using intimidation tactics.
At the press conference, Griffin told Shelton, “I was actually on the fence, front row and was wondering … what, through your investigation, excited these police officers that really were confrontational to the students in front of the fence? They were really taunting us and saying, ‘Hey, if you come over this fence, you will get hurt.’”
Shelton, who looked surprised by the statement, said, “that’s absolutely, totally unacceptable.”
Ashley Woolard, president of the Beaufort County Pirate Club, said the intimidation has been going on at ECU home games for years.
Woolard, a Washington native and ECU alumnus, said the incident “reminded me of the old Soviet Union, a police state.”
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard commented that it was an unfortunate situation.