(U-WIRE) COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second straight year, house parties on Chittenden Avenue escalated into a full riot early Sunday morning.
Sunday morning’s off-campus disturbance occurred on the one-year anniversary of the 2001 Chittenden riot.
About 40 Columbus Police officers, dressed in full riot gear and gas masks, pushed their way down Chittenden Avenue from Summit Street toward High Street around 1 a.m.
The action was an attempt to clear several hundred individuals, many intoxicated, who had congregated in the street. They had stopped traffic, climbed on top of parked cars and tossed bottles and cans onto the street.
Individuals, many of them Ohio State University students, taunted the police as they moved down the street with hand gesturing, flashing and chants of “Bring it on.”
Standing in a cloud of tear gas, one man yelled, “Come on, take me.”
Several minutes later, thick plumes of tear gas rose from the area.
Police arrested 26 people, including 13 OSU students. Twelve police officers were injured, including Suzanne Curmode, commander of the area around the university district, who suffered a broken jaw after being hit in the face by a flying object.
Another officer was injured so severely police thought he had been shot.
“He went down so fast,” said Sgt. Earl Smith, spokesman for the Columbus Division of Police. “He was hit in the back by a bottle or a rock or something.”
One Dumpster fire was set, windows were broken and numerous cars were damaged severely.
The evening began with a long line of house parties, named “Chittfest” by area residents, between High Street and Indianola Avenue. They were relatively contained at 10:30 p.m, with traffic still moving down the street. Most revelers stayed inside temporary orange fences put up by party hosts.
“It wasn’t bad, just a couple of parties,” said Justin Geysel, a sophomore in computer information sciences. “The cops didn’t come until bottles were thrown.”
Shortly after, a huge mass of students, especially from south campus residence halls, crossed High Street into the neighborhood. In a 30-minute period, more than 300 students were counted walking east on 12th Avenue by the Moritz College of Law.
“We’re freshmen, and this is our first riot,” said two smiling women, Nikki and Allison, who declined to give their last names. “This is crazy.”
Dan Davenport, a freshman from Kent State University, said he came down to Columbus, Ohio, to witness Chittfest firsthand.
“Oh yeah, all I’ve heard is that it’s going to be crazy,” Davenport said.
Students from Ohio University, Columbus State Community College and a number of high schools were in attendance early Sunday morning, said Dave Jones, a student at Columbus State who was videotaping the event.
Shortly after midnight, masses of people congregated in the area, a number of them individually carrying cases of beer. Partygoers spilled out into the street, stopped traffic and climbed onto parked cars in the area. The orange fences which previously had contained the parties were broken down completely.
“The notion that you can throw a party and keep things under control by putting up an orange fence is ludicrous,” said Vice President for Student Affairs William Hall, who was in the middle of the street trying to discourage misbehavior. “There’s just too much alcohol for people to act responsibly.”
As the huge mass formed, police bike patrols were seen fleeing at 12:15 a.m.
“Show us your tits,” screamed the mob, as several young women flashed the crowd.
When some of the females completely removed their clothes, they were fondled by the surrounding crowd.
Several student leaders were in the area trying to discourage partygoers from causing problems.
“Everyone’s waiting for the first bottle to be thrown,” said Eddie Pauline, president of the Undergraduate Student Government. “People want to see the police react.”
“Students feel they can do whatever they want without consequence,” said Mike Valo, a senior in finance and coordinator of last week’s off-campus Spring Cleanup, while watching the crowd.
By 12:30 a.m. police officers were seen assembling at Chittenden Avenue and Summit Street. Despite warnings, the crowd did not disperse.
About 18 police cars were seen gathered in an empty gravel lot across from the 7-Eleven convenience store on North High Street.
“Most everyone was on-duty personnel. As the problem got worse, we ended up pulling people from neighborhoods,” Smith said.
The weekend’s events did not cost the police a lot in overtime, Smith said.
“The cost is the services people are paying for — police, fire — that are being used on baby-sitting,” he said.
Hall said he was surprised at how restrained the police were, as they gave students multiple warnings and opportunities to leave the area; however, one area resident had a different view.
“Is there a need for this?” said Chittenden Avenue resident Rudy Chervil, shaking his head. “You do have a couple of students acting like loco-heads, but if the cops didn’t show up, there wouldn’t be an issue.”
Prior to marching down the street, a Columbus police wagon rolled down Chittenden Avenue ordering all those outside to leave the area immediately. The wagon immediately was pelted with a barrage of glass bottles, hurled from second-floor balconies.
The police then marched down the street to disperse the crowd using a combination of tear gas and pepper spray, as well as making arrests.
“People started throwing beer bottles at the police. They had a reason to retaliate,” said Mike Smith, a senior in history.
At about 1:30 a.m., hundreds of students raced to cross High Street from Chittenden Avenue and congregated at the Moritz College of Law.
Some were taunting police, who had lined up in riot gear near the end of Chittenden. Others began to chant “O-H-I-O” and pour onto High Street, blocking oncoming traffic.
Jason Hummel, an area resident, said the closing of south campus bars is partly to blame for Sunday night’s disturbance.
“When [Campus Partners] closed down all of the bars, the neighborhood went downhill. This just makes it worse,” Hummel said.
A large group formed on the corner of Chittenden Avenue and High Street. Students threw bottles and other objects at the police line.
After several minutes, police ran toward the Moritz College of Law, and students scattered. Police chased the students onto campus. Several students were wrestled to the ground and arrested.
By 2 a.m. the majority of people left Chittenden Avenue, and the area quieted down.
As disturbances were quelled, Columbus police officers appeared frustrated with the continuing campus problems.
“It gets old. I’d rather be at home,” said one officer, who declined to identify himself. “I’ve got two sons that are missing Daddy because people can’t behave.”
OSU President William “Brit” Kirwan, attending a conference in Washington, D.C., was informed early Sunday morning of the incident.
The police department is unable to curb the disturbances, Smith said.
“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed above our heads,” he said.
Since last year’s riot the university and student groups have initiated numerous programs and initiatives, including literature drops, block watch programs and the PartySmart program, in hopes of curbing such misconduct.
“I’m extremely frustrated,” Hall said. “We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into solving this problem. It’s clear that individuals came here tonight with the intent to cause trouble.”
Smith said he is unsure what officials will do if this weekend’s Norwichfest gets out of control.
“I don’t know what they’ll do,” he said. “There will be a heightened concern because of what happened [Sunday] night.”
– Lantern campus editor Phil Helsel and editor Megan E. Walsh contributed to this story.