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Utah police absolved in use of force on haka dancers

By Paul Foy / Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:31 a.m. HST, Feb 03, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY » Two police officers were cleared of wrongdoing Thursday for using pepper spray and a baton on a dozen spectators performing a traditional Polynesian war dance after a Utah high school's losing football game.

Utah County Attorney G. Mark Thomas found that the two officers were justified in taking action because they feared a riot and because they were unfamiliar with the haka war dance.

A familiar sight at University of Hawaii Warriors games, the haka has more recently spread to at least a dozen high school football teams, especially those with large numbers of Polynesian students.

The October incident was caught on a blurry cellphone video, which was posted on YouTube and has logged 1.8 million views. The footage shows police pushing back the dancers at a high school in Roosevelt, about 140 miles east of Salt Lake City.

Thomas called the pepper spray and baton appropriate "weapons" used by Roosevelt officers to clear a stadium exit that the dancers were blocking. They repeatedly ignored police commands to "make a hole," but they believed their routine had the tacit approval of school officials and football fans, he said.

"Therefore, I do not believe the performers ‘recklessly' caused a public inconvenience," he said.

In his 21-page opinion, Thomas found that "the officers did not use unlawful force. Therefore, the officers cannot be charged with criminal assault."

His finding supported the results of an internal police investigation, which also said the officers' actions were justified. Thomas has said he opened his probe at the request of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which disputed his conclusions and noted that his second-by-second analysis of the YouTube video shows police used force only 17 seconds after making their first command.

Joe Cohn, interim legal director for the ACLU of Utah, disagreed with the county attorney's finding. "Force is lawful only when it's justified, and not for disobedience to orders — it's for officers who believe they face an immediate threat of danger. There's nothing in this report or investigation that indicates anyone was in any danger," he said.

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Upperkula wrote:
Sad....Very very SAD.
on February 3,2012 | 06:45AM
clum56 wrote:
That's uncalled for. There was no reason for the actions that they used on the braddahs. Is this what the Morman religion is all about, attack your fellow brothers if you are not familiar with their cultural dance and tradtions....
on February 3,2012 | 07:14AM
AlohaKakou wrote:
It was uncalled for . . . and police brutality occurs the world over, regardless of religion or culture.
on February 3,2012 | 08:32AM
H20 wrote:
Wasn't about being unfamiliar with anything, it was about not moving when they were told to.
on February 3,2012 | 08:38AM
Kapakahi wrote:

They were big and brown and the officers didn't understand the cultural significance of the haka. Kinda like when an ignorant person doesn't understand a foreign language and thinks the foreigners are just making unintelligible sounds.

Sounds like a good opportunity for ho`oponopono. The cops were extremely ignorant and were too ready to resort to violence, even though their fear rose from their own ignorance and racism rather from any actual threat. The cops involved should apologize and receive an appropriate punishment. The entire police department should learn from the occasion so it does not happen again.

I suspect the cops are also poorly trained. Utah has a lot of Polynesians due to the Mormon missionary work in the Pacific islands. The cops better learn and, when they mess up, should express sorrow, not deny any fault. We all gotta learn to get along. Even under-educated white cops.

on February 3,2012 | 09:58AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Gee, these kids were all Maori? No? Then it's a faux haka. Like pretending to do an Indian rain dance. Good for the cops - those kids just try to incite stuff with the haka. Has no place in sports outside of New Zealand teams.
on February 3,2012 | 07:20AM
Usagi336 wrote:
We Polynesians need to be unified. We don't need people to tell us that we all should be different. If the Maori wanted to adopt anything Hawaiian, that would make me proud. And the nation should be known as Aotearoa, not New Zealand.
on February 3,2012 | 08:09AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
I believe in what you say. However, when authorities telll you to MOVE I don't care if you are holding a prayer vigil or a dragon dance YOU MOVE. Otherwise you get what you get.
on February 3,2012 | 08:35AM
Graham wrote:
They disobeyed a request by the police and were becoming unruly.
on February 3,2012 | 07:31AM
mcc wrote:
They were dancing, not being unruly. When police judge themselve brutality is justified.
on February 3,2012 | 07:39AM
H20 wrote:
They disobeyed a lawful order, over and over.
on February 3,2012 | 08:36AM
townbound wrote:
Take note Norm............be rid of this silly dance.
on February 3,2012 | 08:27AM
Anonymous wrote:
Take note: be rid of your ignorance - This is not a "silly dance."
on February 3,2012 | 09:06AM
WesleySMori wrote:
on February 3,2012 | 09:43AM
PaloloValley wrote:
Nice, Anonymous !
on February 3,2012 | 10:53AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Gotta disagree with "silly dance". Any culture has the right to express their customs, especially with song and dance. And others should respect that right. In this instance though, repeated efforts to move a crowd were ignored. And that resulted in applying enough force to get the order obeyed. I can't see disrespect of the dance, just disrespect of the police.
on February 3,2012 | 11:35AM
s_manuwai wrote:
Norm is Hawaiian and respects his culture heritage. You should respect him too. While the term "Haka" is Maori, the use of war chants and challenges were used throughout Polynesia. As the term "Hawai'i" is Maoli and the State of Hawai'i lies with the Polynesian triangle we will continue to respect and honor the host culture. You say a "silly dance", I call it a "Call to Battle" that fortifies a Warrior preparing for battle. Clearly you misunderstand its purpose and meaning. And with your silly statement you disrespect the Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans and others who play their hearts out for the Hawai'i Warriors.
on February 3,2012 | 01:30PM
syhud wrote:
Silly dance indeed! Get rid of it.
on February 3,2012 | 04:38PM
juscasting wrote:
Bottom line here...Two Wongs don't make a White. Cop tell you " eh brownie, make a hole!" You move. If you peppa spray and whack students with club for being stupid den you might get fired.
on February 3,2012 | 10:29AM
cojef wrote:
The same old story where there was a discord of cultures, east vs. west.. Mis-communication and lack of foresight resulted in this unhappy incident. The police chief should have implemented training in racial relations, especially with regard to the large concentration of Polynesian population. Specifically, in this case, the haka traditional dance was completely ignored and construed as an unruly mob scene. The Mormon Church has done tremendous amount missionary work in the Pacific and has a rich library of knowledge relating the traditional religious rites of the Polynesian people. This knowledge should be shared with police chief of Roosevelt, Ut. Hope it does not happen again.
on February 3,2012 | 11:17AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Culture my sweet okole. That's the excuse for everything these days. Ranks right up there with Malama ka aina out in the great battery disposal area of Waianae. If the Maori people want to haka, go ahead. All others just STFU.
on February 3,2012 | 03:20PM
SteveToo wrote:
They were "blocking an exit". Why not just move to a more open location?
on February 3,2012 | 01:56PM
entrkn wrote:
I wonder what Mitt Romney would have done...
on February 3,2012 | 03:15PM
fairgame947 wrote:
Seems somewhat unreasonable, but doubt any of those making comment were actually present to see what went on. Personally I like seeing the haka at the Warrior games. Until we know what actually happened we need to withhold judgment. The news doesn't usually present both sides and there most always are two sides.
on February 3,2012 | 04:01PM
AtomicMonkey wrote:
The cops were just performing their cop dance. Rubba boolit, taser butt,yell in bullhorn "Geev em up!", smack da head wit a stick, if that don't work try a brick, Hose da bugga wit peppa stray and make it stick if dey try stay.
on February 7,2012 | 10:23AM