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Morgantown prepares for rowdy fans

The Associated Press
Police watch early Sunday morning as a light pole lies on a fire at the corner of Grant Avenue and 3rd Street in Morgantown after WVU beat Texas Saturday night

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Morgantown Chief of Police Ed Preston wouldn't provide details Wednesday of his department's plan to control fan reactions ahead of Saturday's football game against Texas Tech University.

He only promised his officers would be ready to prevent mayhem similar to what was reported last week after West Virginia University defeated the University of Texas. Police said about a thousand people took to the streets in the Sunnyside area of Morgantown and some started fires, destroyed property and threw objects at officers.

Preston said revealing how his department would preempt rioting fans would create a "confrontational atmosphere" this Saturday.

"It's just creating a situation when everyone knows what you're going to do and they change what they're planning on doing," he said.

After that game, approximately 50 officers wore protective helmets, gas masks, and body armor and carried crowd-control batons as they tried to regain control. Officers used pepper spray and CS cans to disperse the crowds.

His department has consulted with a crowd control instructor to learn how to deal with these situations, Preston said. He did not identify the instructor.

"I'm not going to have him barraged by questions or targeted by the community," he said.

Preston said he met with firefighters, city leaders and WVU officials Tuesday. The group developed short-term plans and discussed "other longer term solutions to the fires and celebratory riots that have plagued the town for years," according to a WVU news release.

The news release said specific tactics on police response would not be discussed or released.

Preston is hoping photos uploaded to the Morgantown Police Department's Facebook page will lead to the identification of several persons of interest in connection to Saturday's rioting.

One photo allegedly shows a man throwing objects at police and another apparently shows a man jumping through a street fire.

Of the 15 people arrested last Saturday, 10 were charged with offenses ranging from battery on an officer, escape, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest/obstructing an officer and battery. Five people were charged with arson-related offenses. In the past year, WVU said 40 students were expelled or suspended for bad behavior. 

WVU President James P. Clements devoted a portion of his State of the University address on Monday to the rowdy crowd. The address, normally given to tout the university's accomplishments and goals, was overshadowed by the crowd's behavior, he said.

Clements said he would strengthen expulsion and discipline policies for students caught in criminal behavior. This would be accomplished through alcohol education and prevention, increased security and more surveillance cameras.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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