First of three arrested in riot pleads not guilty to multiple charges
Police in riot gear used pepper balls, bean bags, smoke and flash grenades late Saturday night, Oct. 12, to disperse a riot on Indian Street near Laurel Park in Bellingham, Wash.
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard and Associated Students President Carly Roberts issued a statement just before noon Sunday regarding the university’s stance on what happened.
“Should any of our students be found to have engaged in lawless and destructive behavior, they have no place at Western,” Shepard and Roberts said in the statement.
Three people were arrested and taken into custody during the event and booked into Whatcom County Jail, according to a Bellingham Police Department press release. Charges included malicious mischief, reckless endangerment, failing to disperse, obstructing, minor in possession of alcohol and riot.
Of those arrested, a man from Seattle is the only one who has appeared in court as of Monday morning. The man, 19, pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of failing to disperse, being a minor in possession and consumption of alcohol. He was released under conditions to remain lawful and to appear in the Bellingham Municipal Court on Dec. 17.
In the university’s statement, Shepard and Roberts wrote none of the people arrested are Western students. Shepard and Roberts praised students who stepped forward to clean up the area of the riot, and wrote that they are thankful no one was seriously injured.
Police broke up a large party at about 9:30 p.m. Saturday at an apartment complex located at 1211 Jersey St., according to the police department’s press release. The crowd of partiers poured onto Indian Street, gathering near Laurel Park.
Hundreds of young people, including Western Washington University students, clashed with police on Indian Street starting at about 10:19 p.m., according to police records.
Police drove up and down Indian Street, telling the crowd – which quickly grew to 400-500 people – to disperse over loud speakers, only to have glass bottles, beer cans, ceramic dinner plates and lawn chairs thrown at them in response.
People also threw beer bottles and rocks at passing cars and a Whatcom Transportation Authority bus around 10:30 p.m. Saturday, police said. People ripped out multiple street signs and threw them into the street in front of police vehicles.
Several thousand dollars of damage was inflicted upon police vehicles, taking them out of service, according to the police release. Several police officers received minor injuries from broken glass shrapnel.
As the crowd grew larger and refused to clear the area, police switched tactics and drove a “bearcat,” a large armored tactical vehicle, through the street. Thirty officers from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol and Western Washington University Police responded to assist Bellingham Police. Over a loudspeaker, they warned the crowd multiple times that if they refused to disperse, they may be subject to arrest and chemical tactics would be used against them.
The crowd disregarded the warnings, and glass bottles and beer cans continued to rain down upon police vehicles. In an attempt to get the crowd moving, police used flash bombs, but the riot escalated further. Around 11 p.m., police began firing pepper balls and throwing smoke grenades into the crowd.
After law enforcement spent nearly an hour using chemical, physical and verbal force, the area was mostly cleared shortly after midnight on Sunday. Police continued to patrol Indian Street and the area around it, shooting pepper balls at straggling rioters and people walking around. Loud explosions from flash grenades and the sound of pepper balls being shot could be heard until about 12:15 a.m. Cleaning crews began clearing the street of debris around 2 a.m. Sunday.
“It is a sad commentary on the students and faculty at Western Washington University, and it’s a blight on the city of Bellingham for the students to behave this way,” Johnston said. “We will meet with the staff at Western and other local law enforcement and evaluate what has taken place here. We will make a decision as to how we’re going to approach this in the future,” Johnston said.
Multiple people reported they were hit with bean bags or sand bags. Police shot bean bags from 12-gauge shotguns, said Bellingham Police Lt. Rick Sucee.
Jake Gist, 21, was hit in the leg with what he called a sand bag.
“I was looking for my friends when they shot me,” Gist said. The police were about 20 feet away from him when they shot at him with the sand bag, Gist said.
Deven Vilar, 21, was walking away from the scene when police threw what she called tear gas bombs at the crowd. Johnston, however, said police did not use tear gas. Vilar and her friends ran away and hid behind an apartment complex. She had to breathe through her scarf, and her nose burned for some time afterward, she said.
Some bystanders intervened with the rioters. Sam Moss picked up two stop signs that were being thrown into the street.
“I think this is totally ridiculous,” Moss said.
Moss, 25, attended Western for five years and the riot is not what comes to mind when he thinks of Bellingham or Western, he said.
Shepard and Roberts’s statement said the riot “stunned us all, for it is so out of character.”
Public safety officers will review surveillance videos, and criminal charges may then follow if evidence presents itself, according to Shepard and Roberts’s statement. If evidence of students acting in violation to Western’s student code arises, enforcement of that code will be followed, according to the statement.
“In this day in age of the abundance of social media, no one can partake in this type of violent behavior and remain anonymous,” Bellingham Police Chief Cliff Cook said in the police department’s press release.
“The unfortunate events that occurred on Saturday evening are not representative of this community,” Cook said. “However, yesterday’s events, which entailed deliberate acts of property damage and assaults on police officers, will not be tolerated.”
The Bellingham Police Department and the Western Washington University Police Department will meet to discuss proactive steps and partnering opportunities to prevent future events, according to the Bellingham Police Department’s press release.
The riot received much attention on social media as it was happening, and many participants and followers used the hashtag, #BellinghamBlockParty.
The Western Front's original story on the riot can be found here. This story has been updated from its original version and may be updated as information becomes available.
A YouTube video of the riot can be viewed here. Disclaimer: contains crude language.