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Penn State Will Stop Using Police Helicopter for Crowd Dispersal at Tailgates, at Least for Now

by on October 02, 2018 4:12 PM

After a low-flying state police helicopter deployed for crowd dispersal caused disruption at tailgates outside Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Penn State Police and Public Safety is, at least temporarily, discontinuing use of helicopters for crowd announcements at football games, pending a review.

"In the aftermath of the deployment of game day safety and security measures the decision has been made to discontinue use of a helicopter to make crowd announcements at football games pending an assessment," Penn State police said in a statement on Tuesday. "We will continue to confer with state police, and evaluate steps taken, which is our normal practice.”

A Penn State police spokesperson said helicopters will still be on site, but won't be used for crowd announcements while the assessment is taking place.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating Saturday's incident.

Penn State police and state police said in separate statements on Monday that the helicopter was deployed as a last resort after a tailgate of several hundred people became unruly and failed to disperse after verbal commands. 

State police first deployed troopers on foot and a tactical mounted unit.

"The crowd began to turn unruly and two PSP horses were assaulted and a trooper was injured," state police said. "Ground units pulled back in an effort to deescalate the situation."

University police said the use of a helicopter to disperse tailgates is rare, but was deployed "when all other warnings from the mounted police unit and officers on the ground were ignored," and because of "numerous law violations, including serious threats to officer safety within a disorderly crowd.

Witnesses said, and multiple videos showed, the helicopter flew low to the ground, sending tents and other debris airborne.

Tailgater Scott Olson, a parent of a Penn State student,  said that early Saturday morning, a police officer asked the fraternity tailgating next to his group to move one space over. After the fraternity’s members refused to move, the officer told Olson and his group that the fraternity would be on watch for the day.

Olson, who said his group didn't have any issues with the larger group of students, said police didn’t check again until some time between 3:30 and 4 p.m. when eight officers on horseback and 15-20 other officers showed up to disperse the tailgate. Shortly after, the helicopter flew in and made a sharp cut in Olson’s aisle, picking up tents and other debris.

He said his truck was scratched by a flying tent and a girl at his tailgate was cut by flying debris.

"A helicopter was utilized to issue commands to disperse via loudspeaker," state police said. "When personnel on scene noticed the helicopter was low enough to disturb items on the ground, the helicopter pulled up to a higher altitude."

Olson said he believed the helicopter flew as low as 30 feet above the ground and that it could have caused serious problems.

“Can you imagine if a helicopter sent debris that hit a horse and it got spooked and started trampling the kids? This could’ve been a tragedy," Olson said. "If that helicopter had any type of accident, you would’ve had people shredded everywhere and cars on fire. It’s so fortunate that there wasn’t a major tragedy yesterday.”

Before the party was broken up, undercover liquor enforcement officers made a purchase to obtain alcohol at the tailgate, according to police. Criminal charges for selling alcohol without a license and furnishing alcohol to a minor are pending. Police seized $200, four 30-packs of beer and eight handles of alcohol, according to a release.

On Tuesday, a man was charged with striking a police horse and resisting arrest in connection with the incident.

[Videos contain profanity]


Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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