COLLEGE PARK – An internal investigation conducted by the University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) found that excessive force in the form of pepper spray was not necessary in an attempt to deescalate a graduation party in May. During the early morning hours of May 21, the UMPD received a call regarding a fight on […]
COLLEGE PARK – An internal investigation conducted by the University of Maryland Police Department (UMPD) found that excessive force in the form of pepper spray was not necessary in an attempt to deescalate a graduation party in May.
During the early morning hours of May 21, the UMPD received a call regarding a fight on the 8500 block of Boteler Lane at the Courtyard Apartments in College Park. Upon arriving on the scene, officers discovered a graduation party, comprised of primarily African Americans, was underway.
After residents had refuted the claim that a fight had taken place, officers entered the apartment and decided the party needed to be shut down because it had surpassed the capacity the apartment could hold. When a group of partygoers did not comply with the instructions to disperse, two officers deployed pepper spray, claiming they believed an officer was in danger.
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS personnel later arrived on the scene to help those affected by the pepper spray. No major injuries were reported.
As a result, however, two individuals were identified, arrested and charged with obstructing and hindering police officers. The state has since dropped those charges.
A summary of the incident said all deployments of pepper spray require an administrative internal review, which commenced the day after the incident and concluded on July 9.
UMPD Police Chief David Mitchell said in the summary that the use of pepper spray “could have been avoided.” Mitchell announced July 14 that one of the officers has been suspended two weeks without pay.
“Throughout the May 21 incident, we should have handled the situation with more diplomacy. It is my opinion that the subsequent deployment of pepper spray could have been avoided. This did not have to happen,” Mitchell said.
Numerous videos of the incident surfaced and circulated on social media, upsetting many members of the campus community, including students and administrators.
Police body camera footage of the incident can be found on the website of the university’s student newspaper.
In an open letter released five days after the incident, Mitchell acknowledged the particular pain behind the incident considering the tumultuous state of police-citizen relations nationally, especially involving African Americans.
University President Wallace Loh applauded Mitchell and the department for its transparency and accountability. He said he believes this level of attentiveness to the issue will bridge divides between the university community and police.
“This is a charged time in our nation. As a society, we must find a path forward to come together,” Loh said. “I deeply regret the incident at The Courtyards, but I believe the actions by Chief Mitchell and the UMPD are important steps on our campus to bridge chasms, salve anguish and anger, and promote justice.”
In addition to suspending an officer involved, Mitchell has obtained a criminal charge summons against those who called in the false report of a fight and announced officers will undergo training in cultural diversity and implicit bias.
With the help of the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, headed by Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Kumea Shorter-Gooden, Mitchell and the department will look to ensure something like this never happens again.
“I’m well aware we have a department that strives diligently to be responsive, fair and very integrated into the life of our community,” said Shorter-Gooden, who also is a clinical community psychologist. “The power of implicit bias is that things can happen, stereotypes can emerge unbeknownst to people. I’m aware the University of Maryland is not immune to these problems.”