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Tear gas, broken glass and police in riot gear filled the streets of Isla Vista Saturday night when the day’s Deltopia activities turned violent after an unknown partygoer attacked a UCSB Police Department officer, causing a crowd to form and prompting law enforcement to declare the crowd an “unlawful assembly.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff spokesperson Kelly Hoover said the “civil unrest” began on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive at approximately 9:30 p.m. when the officer was struck in the head with a backpack containing bottles of alcohol. The annual event drew an estimated 15,000 people this year, with law enforcement arresting over 100 people throughout the day, including 18 during the unrest, and 44 people were transported to the hospital for injuries.
The officer who was first assaulted had been attempting to break up a fight when he was knocked down, and onlookers began throwing rocks and bottles as reinforcements arrived, according to Hoover. The violence soon spread to other areas of Isla Vista, with participants continuing to throw objects at police, burning mattresses, ripping up stop signs, destroying car windshields and damaging police vehicles. Law enforcement formed a barricade and dispersed crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets while participants threw bottles, bricks and rocks and moved dumpsters and trash cans into the street.
A Santa Barbara County Sherriff department officer announced repeatedly that those present were part of an “unlawful assembly” and warned bystanders to go indoors while crowds in the street chanted “Fuck the police” and “U.S.A.” Members of law enforcement arrived to assist from as far away as UC Irvine, and police in riot gear used BearCat vehicles employing a long-range-acoustic-device to push party-goers out of Del Playa. Once police cleared Del Playa, they began to move toward neighboring Sabado Tarde Road, Camino Pescadero and Camino del Sur, barricading entrances to Del Playa and advancing north while crowds chanted.
Aaron Vargas, a student at Santa Barbara City College, said police with riot gear came as a surprise to him, and many of those participating in the riot had no idea how the incident began.
“They were mobbing down DP, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the police shot tear gas and said some stuff over the intercom, ‘You guys are unlawful,'” said Vargas. “So we started saying ‘fuck the police,’ and then more tear gas. It was just crazy man.”
Hoover stated no deaths were reported and denied claims that an officer was stabbed in the eye as a “rumor,” but said six officers were injured in the unrest, including the one struck by a backpack, one hit by a brick in the head, two hit with bottles, and two others who were hit by various other objects. With the violence toward officers — and with crimes in recent weeks including a stabbing, near riot and multiple sexual assaults — Hoover said local law enforcement is being faced with an especially “rough” and unpredictable environment.
“We had a plan in place to handle the situation … but we certainly didn’t expect that to happen,” Hoover said.
As the situation made its way onto local televised news, UCSB Associate Dean of Students, Student Life and Activities Katya Armistead said she could see the fear in student residents.
“I was devastated, just devastated, watching the coverage,” Armistead said. “I started looking at social media, Facebook, and started seeing a lot of students that I knew reacting and pretty upset. They were tear gassed or they were scared to leave their homes.”
In the aftermath of the riots, some students and even UCSB administrators are saying the friction between partygoers and law enforcement allowed the night’s events to escalate to such destructive levels. Armistead agreed with Hoover that the recent spike in violent crime has put local police officers on the “defense.”
“I think they were already on the defense — they being the police,” Armistead said. “So I think last night, as soon as that officer was struck, the police were like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to take this. We know what happened last time’… They were trying to protect themselves.”
However, there has also been a general outcry from students regarding local police activity, particularly the installment of security cameras along Del Playa and miscommunication surrounding policies for Deltopia, such as a festival ordinance for loud music. Armistead said many students were confused about the ordinance, which law enforcement released no official notification for.
“There was definitely a misunderstanding,” Armistead said. “We need to do a way better job of communicating exactly what we’re following. If students asked me yesterday exactly what [the ordinance] was, I wouldn’t have been able to say, and that’s not a good thing.”
UCSB Associate Dean of Students Don Lubach said much of the concerns surrounding the newly-placed security cameras seem to come from the lack of transparency and open communication in installing them.
“They are not evil in and of themselves,” Lubach said. “I think we heard, this afternoon, that people were worried about how fast they went up, and it felt like there was not enough consultation.”
Although neither the Sheriff’s Office nor members of the UCSB administration had information regarding the number of non-local party-goers in I.V., Hoover said much of the disturbance likely resulted from visitors.
“You can’t say that the locals are innocent in all of this, but we do find that Isla Vista attracts people from out of town to come in,” Hoover said. “They’re not invested in our community, and they’re attracted by the atmosphere.”
Third-year political science and economics major Andrew Soriano, president of UCSB’s Residence Hall Association, said the fact that students invite friends and publicize the event contributes to the out-of-towner problem.
“I would honestly say that this is a culmination of a lot of issues. Although out-of-towners are the problem, part of the problem is ingrained in how certain individuals have invited their friends and that our school image in general attracts the wrong crowd,” Soriano said. “Honesty I kinda felt a little bit blindsided … so in retrospect we should have prepared for the worst.”
Hoover said she was disheartened by the party-goers’ response to police, saying police were merely attempting to keep the peace.
“Their entire goal is to protect the citizens, and to have individuals who are throwing things at them when they’re trying to protect them is just ridiculous and hard to understand, and it’s hurtful,” Hoover said. “It really is hurtful. It makes me angry.”
In response to Saturday’s violence, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young invited student leaders and community members to speak with him in an open forum yesterday at Coffee Collaborative. He said although he approves of light-hearted partying, the events of Deltopia went too far.
“I don’t care if students who are of age have a drink, I don’t care if people engage in relationships as long as everyone is consenting — [that’s] none of my business. But what I do care about is abuse of people and the environment in the name of fun.”
Hoover said she expects members of local law enforcement and the general Isla Vista community to come together in light of Saturday’s incidents.
“Everyone’s going to come together, and we’re going to have to figure out where to go from here,” Hoover said. “We can’t allow our law enforcement, our citizens, to get hurt or to die.”
Carissa Quiambao, Patrick Kulp, and Jimmy Chang contributed to this report.
Video by Daniel Slovinsky
A version of this story appeared on the Monday, April 7, 2014 edition of the Daily Nexus.