Blarney blowback: Students crowd court docket
Joshua N. Scott was one of several dozen people who appeared for arraignment in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown Monday on charges related to the so-called "Blarney Blowout" that took place in Amherst over the weekend. Scott was charged with disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. Daily Hampshire Gazette/ Kevin Gutting
AMHERST — While town and university officials huddled Monday for post-mortems of Saturday’s Blarney Blowout, some 30 college-age people answered to criminal charges connected to the pre-St. Patrick’s Day mayhem.
And that was just the beginning. More court appearances are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday because Eastern Hamphire District Court could not handle all the cases in one day.
Saturday’s shenanigans drew police in riot gear and ended with injuries and vandalism, prompting town and gown alike to vow next year would be different.
“As a proud UMass alum, I share the frustration, embarrassment and anger over the events of the weekend,” said Amherst Town Manager John Musante.
It is not yet clear how many of those arrested are University of Massachusetts students, but the Barney Blowout has become synonymous with UMass.
Musante said the influx of Blarney Blowout participants from outside Amherst is troubling.
“Clearly, there were a number of visitors to the town on top of the students already here,” he said.
For most of those arrested — those charged with minor violations such as having open containers of alcohol in public and being minors in possession of alcohol — the consequences were four months probation, a $100 fine and the requirement to take a one-day alcohol education seminar at a cost of $50.
But for the more serious offenses, it was a different matter. Defendants facing charges of inciting a riot, failure to disperse from a riot and assault and battery on a police officer, face more serious consequences — those crimes can each carry a sentence of up to one year in prison. Those defendants were released on their own recognizance and ordered to return for pretrial conferences in April and May.
Monday’s proceedings filled Judge Robert Gordon’s Belchertown courtroom to standing-room-only capacity.
Resolve to act
Meanwhile, Musante and UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy pledged to find a way to stop what has become an annual melee that seems to worsen each year.
This year, crowds of up to 4,000 people gathered in various North Amherst locations and as police called for them to disperse and advanced with pepper-spray guns, some partyers responded by flinging bottles, cans and snowballs. At least four officers received injuries that did not require hospital treatment, and many others suffered cuts and bruises. Police arrested 55 people between 8 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday. Another eight people are expected to be summoned to court to face charges related to the alcohol-fueled disturbances.
“We’re really going to redouble our efforts, identify specific strategies — plural — to prevent this kind of thing occurring,” Musante said Monday.
In a statement, Subbaswamy also used the word “redouble” in describing efforts he will take to avert future episodes. He promised to take “swift action” to address any violations of the Code of Student Conduct, whether off or on campus, resulting from the disturbances.
Response praised, questioned
Musante said police officers and firefighters “did a tremendous job under difficult circumstances.”
There were complaints by some that police were heavy-handed in dealing with the crowds. Ivan Rudovol of Sharon claimed he was sober when he arrived to visit a friend at the Brandywine Apartments. He didn’t realize people had been ordered to disperse from the area, and was hit in the eyes with pepper spray by an Amherst police officer. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse from a riot.
In a statement issued Monday, Police Chief Scott Livingstone called Saturday’s events “extremely upsetting and hazardous. The behavior of many participants of this melee caused the public and first responders to be placed in a very dangerous situation,” he said.
Police Detective Lt. Ronald Young noted one incident in which a Hallock Street resident returned home at 2:09 p.m. Saturday to find the window in the front door smashed out and two intruders inside his bedroom, one of whom was bleeding profusely. The heavily intoxicated intruders then became combative with the resident. The suspects are being summoned to court on charges of breaking and entering during the daytime to commit a felony, disorderly conduct and malicious destruction of property under $250, Young said.
At 11:06 a.m., another Hallock Street resident of an apartment building reported people loitering outside people entering the building to urinate.
More serious charges
The large crowds, which police estimated at more than 4,000 at times, periodically became destructive and aggressive, according to police.
Those who face the most serious charges are those who allegedly became combative with police, including individuals who police reports say hit officers with thrown beer bottles.
Zachary Ryan Bodine, 23, of New Bedford, Jared Dawson, 21, of Groton, Stephen Edward Gage, 20, of East Falmouth, and Owen McGowan, 19, of Norwell, were all arrested on charges of assault and battery on a police officer. Dawson also faces charges of disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and resisting arrest, while Bodine faces charges of failure to disperse from a riot and resisting arrest, police said. Gage was also arrested on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, resisting arrest and failure disperse from a riot, while McGowan was also arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and inciting a riot, police said.
In other destructive acts, partyers tried to tear down light poles at Brandywine Apartments on North Pleasant Street, police said. Police arrested two men at Townehouse Apartments on Meadow Street after they confronted a private security team.