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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (KDKA) — West Virginia University officials say a “playful time in the snow” Friday afternoon escalated when students threw glass bottles at officers.
The incident started just before 3 p.m. on North Spruce Street in Morgantown near the WVU campus.
According to Morgantown Police, a large crowd had gathered on the street and were consuming alcohol openly, sledding, snowboarding and blocking the roadway. Classes were canceled at the university for the day due to snow and frigid temperatures.
School officials told the crowd to move so snow plows and salt trucks could get down the street, and Morgantown Police officers tried to escort a plow down the street in order to get pedestrians off the road.
According to police, members of the crowd began throwing glass bottles, rocks and other items at the officers and Public Works crews.
Officers went behind the snow plow so they wouldn’t be hit.
Police say three officers deployed pepper ball munitions, targeting the building above the people throwing projectiles so the balls would disintegrate on the building and the powder would fall onto the crowd. They say the officers were trying to cover the retreat of other workers and officers in the area.
According to police, the incident was declared a riot around 3:50 p.m. and officers ordered the crowd to disperse.
When the crowd failed to do so, officers issued a second notice to disperse, but the crowd again refused.
Police say officers then deployed a Long-Range Acoustic Device, which is a directional loud speaker that emits a “steady annoying noise.”
At that time, some members of the crowd set a fire with debris in the middle of the street.
Officers deployed the Long-Range Acoustic Device in a different direction and a large portion of the crowd began to disperse.
Police say more than half the crowd dispersed after about five minutes, but those who still refused to leave were confrontational and continued to fuel the street fire and throw objects at the officers.
Two smoke grenade rounds were then fired on the street. The remaining crowd dispersed at that time.
Public Works crews used a snow plow and snow from the area to extinguish the fire. The scene was cleared around 5 p.m.
No one has been charged at this time. No officers or workers were injured in the incident. One person reportedly sustained a “contusion,” but didn’t require emergency medical treatment.
The university released the following statement on the incident:
“It is unfortunate that what began today on Spruce Street as a playful time in the snow, turned into a dangerous and threatening situation for students and law enforcement officers alike.
“The escalation apparently began when the several hundred students and others who had gathered refused reasonable instructions to disperse and began tossing glass bottles and other debris toward officers, resulting in law enforcement taking action.
“University officials will review videos of the situation to determine if any charges should be filed.
“We remind our students that our actions should represent our Mountaineer values. Behave responsibly, be accountable and please comply with police, who want to keep our campus, city and all of our first responders safe through this weather.”
Corey Farris, the WVU Dean of Students, says they will be looking at videos to determine possible disciplinary action.
“We’ll work with University Police and other authorities and we’ll look at all the video and see what we can identify, and absolutely if they’re WVU students, then we’ll run them through our student conduct process and certainly there could be charges that are forthcoming,” Farris said.
Morgantown Police say they will also be reviewing body camera footage, statements and surveillance video of the incident.