TPD Sprayed One Can of Pepper Spray to Disperse Celebration Crowd
Tuscaloosa Police officers used a single can of pepper spray to disperse the thousands of revelers who flooded The Strip to celebrate the Alabama Crimson Tide's national championship win Monday night.
In a virtual press conference Tuesday morning, mayor Walt Maddox and TPD Chief Brent Blankley said the department used as little force as possible to clear the streets after a raucous celebration devolved into fighting and widespread destruction of property.
As for the crowd itself, Maddox said there were "thousands upon thousands" of people in the street, pouring out of bars on the Strip but also coming there from nearby apartment complexes and University of Alabama dorms. He called it the largest celebration Tuscaloosa has seen in recent history, and said there was little the city could do to prevent it.
Maddox said to have stopped the crowds from gathering in the first place, the city would likely have needed to deploy more than 500 officers in riot gear and prepared to use a significant amount of force. TPD has fewer than 300 sworn officers total, and around a third of them are currently off duty due to COVID-19 quarantine protocols or personal leave.
Instead, TPD spent more than 12 hours on the Strip, first passing out masks to partiers who were not wearing them, and then working to disperse the crowd that gathered after the Tide's victory over Ohio State.
Blankley was there in person, leading the effort from 1:30 p.m. until after 2 a.m.
"It meant a lot for me to have a chief that's on the ground personally overseeing things," Mayor Maddox said. "I am just so impressed by the chief and our officers and the way they were able to deal with a very difficult situation that was spontaneous in nature. It goes back to very good planning and very good execution."
The chief said TPD's first instinct after the game was to allow the fans to celebrate peacefully, but after 15-20 minutes "something shifted" and a few fights broke out and the crowd began to damage property at Quick Grill, CVS, on the streets and more.
Blankley said TPD made the decision to slowly move a few cruisers into the crowd in an effort to make people disperse, but the crowd closed in behind them and trapped the officers in the sea of people.
"More fights broke out, bottles started being thrown at TPD officers and our vehicles," Blankley said. "At that point, it started to get out of hand. For everybody's safety, pepper spray was used. Only one canister was used and it was sprayed directly into the ground in little spurts."
He said it was "just enough for people to smell it" and understand it was time to leave the area, and that no one reported any serious respiratory distress after it was used. Blankley said TPD used as little force as possible to break up the crowd, and only after people were getting hurt and property was being damaged in the melee.
Rumors swirled on social media Monday night that the department had deployed "tear gas," but Blankley said that level of force is reserved for situations such as a suspect barricading themselves in a home to avoid arrest and was absolutely not used on the Strip.
14 people were arrested on 18 different charges including disorderly content, public intoxication and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Blankley said two people were injured in the celebration, both of whom were hit in the face with either beer bottles or beer cans, and they were taken to DCH Regional Medical Center for treatment.
The police department did not issue any citations to those gathered who were not wearing masks or following other COVID-19 regulations and opted instead to pass out masks to anyone who did not have one.
Blankley said the streets were considered cleared just after midnight, and that TPD stayed in place until 2 a.m. when street-sweepers arrived to clean up after the celebration.
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