BOULDER, Colo. (NewsNation Now) — Authorities promised Sunday to pursue criminal charges after a massive party near the University of Colorado in Boulder devolved into a violent confrontation with police that left three officers injured.
Hundreds of people flooded the streets in an area known as the Hill on Saturday night and when told to leave threw bottles, rocks and other objects at police and firefighters, police said.
At least one car was damaged when the mob flipped it over, and police brought in a SWAT team and used tear gas to break up the crowd that numbered 500 to 800 people at its peak, said Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold.
One armored police vehicle sustained “heavy damage,” as did a fire truck according to the Boulder Police department.
Images shared by local media showed no social distancing and most without masks despite the coronavirus pandemic. Fireworks were set off in the middle of the street and a law enforcement armored vehicle and a fire truck were damaged, according to police and local media.
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At one point Herold said a “tactical decision” was made to withdraw some officers when a group of about 100 people started to rush them. It took more than three hours to disperse the crowd, according to a timeline she provided.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty described the rowdy behavior amid the coronavirus pandemic as “shameful.”
“I hear people refer to it as a party. I don’t regard flipping over a car as a party and I don’t regard people who throw bottles and rocks at firefighters and police as a party,” he said. “Those are criminal acts and will be treated as such.”
No arrests were made at the scene, police said.
Officers were reviewing officer body camera footage and shared social media videos and photos to identify the individuals involved. They also set up a portal on the city’s website to allow the public to submit additional video footage or other evidence from the disturbance.
Herold said it was a calculated call not to make any arrests immediately, out of worry that sending in officers would agitate the large crowd. She added that the department had “excellent” video to help it pursue those responsible for the violence.
The three injured officers were recovering, including one who was struck in the hand and another who was hit in the face but was wearing a gas mask, Herold said. City vehicles suffered thousands of dollars in damages and private property also was harmed, she said.
The Hill neighborhood has been known for decades for sometimes raucous parties and there have been previous confrontations that resulted in violence, including 12 officers injured in a 1997 riot near the school.
But city officials said during a Sunday press conference that the stakes from Saturday’s events are particularly high amid the pandemic, with potentially dire consequences. Health officials advised anyone who participated to quarantine for at least 10 days and to get tested for COVID-19.
CU Boulder students returned to campus for hybrid and in-person learning in mid-February.
University officials apologized to Boulder residents who live near the school and said students who were involved in violence, property damage or failing to disperse would be held accountable.
“If they can’t meet our expectation, they are not welcome at the university,” said CU Boulder Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke. He added that the university knows its students were involved and “We are not going to try to shift the blame.”
In a statement released on Twitter, Boulder Police Chief Maris said detectives will “identify and arrest those responsible for this reprehensible and unacceptable behavior” and encouraged anyone with information to send it to police.
The owner of the car damaged on the street hopes the people who did it get in trouble. She watched them from a window upstairs from where she parked it.
WARNING: FOUL LANGUAGE CAN BE HEARD IN VIDEO.
The University of Colorado sent this statement to NewsNation affiliate KDVR:
After the party broke up, other students came to the scene with garbage bags to pick up the large amounts of trash left behind.
We are aware of a large party on University Hill on Saturday evening and allegations of violence toward police officers responding to the scene. We condemn this conduct. It is unacceptable and irresponsible, particularly in light of the volume of training, communication and enforcement the campus and city have dedicated to ensuring compliance with COVID-19 public health orders. CU Boulder will not tolerate any of our students engaging in acts of violence or damaging property.
CU Boulder has made it clear to our student body that following county public health orders is required under the student code of conduct. The vast majority of our students have followed these directives. When health officials and police have referred public health order violations to our student conduct office, CU Boulder has responded quickly and imposed discipline when violations were established. Disciplinary actions include interim exclusions from campus and 45 suspensions so far this academic year. We will continue to take these actions to make clear that protecting our community and our campus is of utmost importance and that we will not tolerate such violations. Any student who is found responsible for having engaged in acts of violence toward the law enforcement or other first responders will be removed from CU Boulder and not readmitted.
We appreciate the efforts of law enforcement to address the unacceptable conduct of these students and apologize to the residents of University Hill for their behavior.University of Colorado
The Associated Press contributed to this report.