BELLINGHAM, Wash. >> Hundreds of college-age revelers in Washington state — thwarted in efforts to continue a large party — threw projectiles at police who responded with pepper spray to disperse them, authorities said.
Three people were arrested during the melee late Saturday and early Sunday in the scenic college town of Bellingham, about 75 miles north of Seattle.
“There was drinking, it became disorderly and pretty much an out and out riot,” Bellingham police Sgt. Mike Scanlon told The Associated Press.
Several police officers suffered minor injuries from broken glass, and police cars and a public bus was damaged, police said in a news release Sunday.
Scanlon said the unrest began as police dispersed a noisy party that had drawn a few hundred people.
Lauren Boushey, 20, a junior at Western Washington University in Bellingham who was at the apartment complex party, said it broke up around 9 p.m. and police officers politely asked people to go home.
“It was set up to be … this really nice night and nothing reckless or ridiculous like it turned into,” she said Sunday, noting that the party wasn’t connected to the ensuing ruckus. People lingered and a crowd started forming a block away, she said.
Many of the revelers moved to nearby Laurel Park, where they were joined by even more people, Scanlon said, calling it a “large, intoxicated, disorderly crowd.”
The situation “finally boiled over,” he said. “They began hurling projectiles at police.”
Bottles, cinder blocks, dinner plates and patio furniture were among the items thrown at officers, police said.
Up to 500 people had converged on the park as police worked to disperse them, at one point using pepper spray, Scanlon said. It took about 45 minutes to clear the area and restore order.
Boushey said she saw several people throwing bottles and beer cans at police officers and provoking them. She saw multiple officers get hit by bottles.
“They got this horrible ignorant mob mentality,” she said. “It was so sad and disrespectful to watch.”
She said there was a large police presence during the melee and at one point, what she called a “riot tank” rolled through with police officers hanging off the sides and loudspeakers warning people to disperse.
“It was very surreal,” said Victoria Sewell, a WWU senior, who walked into the fracas Saturday night on her way to a friend’s house. “There were so many police cars and people. I’ve never seen anything like that in Bellingham.”
She said police let off tear gas and sound grenades.
Police said three people ranging in age from 19 to 23 were arrested on charges including riot, malicious mischief, reckless endangerment, failing to disperse and obstruction. None of those arrested is a WWU student.
Bellingham and WWU police plan to review video of the incident, and more arrests may follow.
“In this day in age of the abundance of social media, no one can partake in this type of violent behavior and remain anonymous,” Police Chief Cliff Cook said. “Yesterday’s events which entailed deliberate acts of property damage and assaults on police officers will not be tolerated.”
The university released a joint statement from WWU President Bruce Shepard and Student Body President Carly Roberts saying officials at the school of about 15,000 students will also review the incident and enforce the student conduct code.
Shepard and Roberts said they were thankful that students were among those who stepped up to clean up the area.