Several UCSB students are still recovering from the Mardi Gras celebration that turned violent in San Luis Obispo.
Of the 130 people arrested in SLO this weekend, at least four were UCSB students. The SLO Police Dept. estimates that nearly 5,000 people crowded onto California Street – the SLO equivalent to Isla Vista’s Del Playa Drive – by 10:30 Saturday night. SLOPD spokesman Rob Bryn said the majority of the arrests were made for failure to disperse and public drunkenness. Of the arrests made, 49 percent were from outside of SLO County, 43 percent were local and 8 percent did not know where they were from at the time of arrest.
Bryn said there were 120 officers on duty Saturday night, both from SLOPD and neighboring police departments. Among the additional police units recruited for the night was the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Mounted Unit.
“A horse took a bottle in the face and the crowd started cheering,” Bryn said. “That will give you some indication of the mood of the crowd.”
Several officers sustained injuries from bricks, concrete pipes, and bottles and cans that were filled with sand, Bryn said. Projectiles thrown by the crowd also damaged several police cars. Bryn said police responded with non-lethal pepperballs.
“It’s the same as a paintball, only filled with pepper spray,” Bryn said. “The pepper can be an irritant for quite some time, but it’s certainly better than a rock in the face.”
Bryn said the officers’ goal was to keep people out of the street and keep traffic flowing. Caley Heekin, a UCSB sophomore math and philosophy major who was pepper-sprayed in the face, said the police barricaded several roads and used shotguns loaded with bean bag ammunition against anyone in the roadway.
“[The police] made themselves a target of animosity. People got pissed off and started to throw beads. Then beads turned into bottles,” Heekin said. “[The police] were aiming at anyone in the street. The cops just told them to get inside or they’d get shot.”
Even after rinsing his eyes with water, Heekin said it took an hour and a half to regain his sight.
“I’m never going back to that town again,” Heekin said.
Gabe Mickartz, a UCSB sophomore psychology major who was visiting a friend in SLO, said he saw police arresting people who were separated from the crowd and not involved in the violence.
“It was pretty much chaos; the cops were everywhere,” Mickartz said. “I saw a cop emptying a whole load of bean bags into the crowd just to move people.”
Bryn said that methods such as pepperballs used to disperse the crowd were designed to hit specific targets and not to be fired randomly.
“In the old days, we used aerosol agents such as tear gas, which is effective, but then it wafts around the neighborhood for a while,” Bryn said. “The pepperball technology allows us to be very specific in our approach; therefore the word ‘indiscriminate’ is not in the vocabulary.”
Mickartz said one of his friends was tackled by an officer and arrested while he was sitting on the front steps of a residence trying to rinse pepper spray from his eyes.
“It was a rude awakening coming from here where the cops are dicks, but at least you know the rules,” Mickartz said. “We went up there and just had no idea what to do.”
A UCSB student who was arrested for being drunk in public and wished to remain anonymous said the police used zip-ties instead of handcuffs to detain people. The zip-ties were so tight he lost feeling in part of his hand.
“I saw people in the jail with cuts across their hands and black eyes,” he said. “They had one guy zip-tied at the hands and feet, and then they dropped him on his head.”
The SLOPD videotaped many of the events that unfolded this weekend in preparation for such accusations, Bryn said.
“We realize that everybody has video cameras, and so do we. We utilize tools to document what we do not only to convict people, but to defend ourselves,” Bryn said. “We don’t want to hurt people and certainly don’t want to get ourselves hurt.”
Bryn said the SLOPD plans to bring in additional officers for next year’s Mardi Gras, although it is too early to give an estimation of that will mean for partygoers or the annual Mardi Gras community parade.
“Right now the community is angry,” Bryn said. “They don’t think they deserve this kind of treatment from people who are from out of town or from people who go to Cal Poly.”