UMd. Police Chief: Officer's Use of Pepper Spray at Party Unacceptable

"I'm terribly embarrassed and humiliated by the actions of our officers," the Chief David Mitchell said.

A University of Maryland police officer has been suspended and the police chief is ordering the entire force to do bias and diversity training after finding some officers' use of pepper spray at a May graduation party unacceptable.

Chief David Mitchell said a nearly seven-week administrative review of the incident at The Courtyards apartments in College Park, Maryland, found one officer's use of pepper spray did not meet the department's standards. That officer has been suspended without pay for two weeks.

"I'm terribly embarrassed and humiliated by the actions of our officers. It shouldn't have happened this way. We don't often get it wrong and we did here," Mitchell said.

Officers went to the apartment at the 8500 block of Boteler Lane, about 1:45 a.m. on May 21 after receiving a call about a loud party and a possible fight at the on-campus apartments involving a baseball bat.

When officers went to the apartment they discovered there was no fight in progress, but they made the decision to shut down the party because there were too many people inside, according to a summary of the incident Chief David Mitchell released on Thursday.

The officers told the partygoers, the majority of them African-American, to leave and a group of people surrounded an officer and refused to disperse, Mitchell said.

Two officers used pepper spray on the crowd. Cell phone video of the incident shows people screaming, coughing and frantically running out of the apartment.

The officers later said they decided to spray because they believed the officer was in danger, Mitchell said.

Shortly after spraying pepper spray, two people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, failure to obey lawful order and obstructing and hindering. Mitchell said the charges have since been dropped.

Prince George's County medics and firefighters arrived to treat the people sprayed and the area outside the apartment became overcrowded, police said.

Officers asked the people who were not being treated to back up and when they did not comply, an officer sprayed pepper spray again.

Mitchell said police showed body camera footage of the incident to some of the students involved. He said those students are still traumatized.

"Clearly, we need to revisit this and we will revisit the use of pepper spray and our policy," Mitchell said.

He said he will form a team of university leaders to help him review department policy and it is possible more officers involved in the incident will be disciplined.

"My students feel it and perception is reality, so I agree that this is a problem for us and law enforcement with regard to trust between our community and the police," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said a separate criminal investigation has since proved the report about the fight at the apartment was false and the department is pursuing the people who made the call.

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