BOULDER, Colorado. – At a large gathering that turned into hand-to-hand combat on Saturday night near the University of Colorado Boulder, several students were bleeding and gassed, at least two vehicles were damaged and three SWAT officers were injured, police said.
The officers were injured trying to disperse the crowd in the University Hill neighborhood of Boulder. The officers were hit with bricks and stones and suffered minor injuries, the Boulder Police Department said on Twitter, and the windshield of an armored car used on the scene was broken.
Over 100 people ran up to the officers before tear gas was used, city police chief Maris Herold said at a press conference on Sunday. The crowd was largest around 7 p.m. and included up to 800 people, the boss said.
Most of the participants did not take precautions against the coronavirus, such as social distancing or wearing masks. Infectious disease experts have raised concerns that spring break social gatherings and travel could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases due to warming weather and local restrictions.
Boulder County’s District Attorney Michael T. Dougherty said the episode marked a “huge setback” in the city’s efforts to fight the pandemic. Jeff Zayach, the county’s public health director, described the lack of mask wear and social distancing as “shocking and disturbing.”
Colorado recently reached 6,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to a New York Times database.
The university said it was “aware of a large party on University Hill on Saturday night and allegations of violence against police officers responding to the scene.”
“We condemn this behavior,” it said, adding, “it is unacceptable and irresponsible, especially given the level of training, communication and enforcement” regarding coronavirus restrictions.
The neighborhood known as Hill is home to bars and many of the university’s brother and sisterhood houses. Anna Haynes, editor-in-chief of the CU Independent, a student-run news site, wrote in the New York Times last year, “It’s the place to go, whether it’s a pandemic or not.”
Students who live in the neighborhood said people had small gatherings in their courtyards on Saturday to enjoy a warm day after being penned in by cold weather and coronavirus restrictions.
But when videos of the scene were posted on social media, people who didn’t live there or weren’t affiliated with the university, like high school students, began to gather on the street.
March 7, 2021, 3:06 p.m. ET
While it was clear that not every person was a student in the university, “we are not going to try to change the guilt,” said Pat O’Rourke, the university’s chief operating officer.
Brynn Umansky, a junior at the university who lives in the University Hill neighborhood, said, “As soon as it got dark it turned into a whole mob and literally grew overnight until the cops came.”
“It was really scary and horrible and the police didn’t do anything for hours,” she said. “It was a lot, especially to live here and see everything and not be able to do anything about it.”
Ms. Umansky and her roommates watched the scene from their balcony as people climbed onto their roof and tried to enter. Kendall St. Claire, a junior who lives with Ms. Umansky, said the participants threw bottles and stones at police cars, injuring people in the process.
The injured “just came into our house and we couldn’t stop them,” said Ms. St. Claire, adding that most of them were severely intoxicated. “At least three people I saw had cuts in the middle of their foreheads,” she said.
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Isabella Sackheim was with Mrs. Umanksy when someone told her that her car, a silver Nissan Versa, had been run over.
“The people cheered,” said Ms. Umansky. “It was terrible. It was definitely a mob mentality.”
The police received calls about “a big party” on the block shortly before 5:00 pm, the city said. At 5:40 p.m., the city said “the crowd swelled and individuals began throwing glass bottles at the officers,” and at 5:48 p.m. the Boulder Police Department activated their SWAT unit. It wasn’t until 9 p.m. that the crowd began to disperse, the city said.
Ms. Sackheim said the episode was “really disappointing” but that she was encouraged by the efforts of the university community to help her. A friend of Ms. Sackheim’s set up a GoFundMe page and someone posted their Venmo username on social media, she said, raising $ 9,000 to replace her car.
During the hand-to-hand combat, people once danced on an Amazon van, the students said. One of the people on the truck was summoned, the police chief said.
No arrests were made on Saturday, although some quotes for public health violations were posted earlier in the day, Chief Herold said. The department is reviewing footage from the body camera, as well as photos and videos posted on social media, to help identify those involved, she said.
Frida Carlson, a senior citizen, said she hoped the university would step up coronavirus testing and consider canceling face-to-face classes for two to three weeks, fearing the gathering may have been a superspreader event.
Mr O’Rourke said that face-to-face classes will continue this week, but students may raise concerns about their professors. City and university officials asked everyone at the gathering to quarantine and run virus tests for 10 days. Mr O’Rourke said students would not be identified or punished for looking for tests.
“I’m sure there will be an outbreak,” said Ms. Umanksy.