MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Another six arrests are anticipated in connection to the Feb. 1 “snow day riots” at WVU, which would follow 11 arrests announced Wednesday.
“Even though some of these charges might be some minor charges as folks have been charged with, they are only like the lower of the level of charges that could have been charged against many of these students,” Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval.
On the third consecutive day of cancelled classes, a significant number of people — WVU students among them — gathered on North Spruce Street in Morgantown, close to the campus of West Virginia University. According to police, the crowd refused to allow city employees to plow the area following a day of heavy snow. Students had reportedly been sledding, drinking, and enjoying the unexpected and lengthy break from classes.
When police arrived to attempt to clear the students away so plow trucks could get through, Preston said some students began throwing items at officers and city employees. The word riot has been used regularly — then and now by police — to describe what occurred at the scene.
Eight of the 11 arrested are members of the Gamma Pi Chapter of Sigma Nu, according to city officials.
“Some of these individuals could be looking at losing their potential education,” Preston said. “They could be kicked out of school. There’s a double hammer here on some of these folks, as well as any sanctions related to the fraternities themselves because of the Interfraternity Council.”
According to a WVU spokesperson in an e-mail exchange with MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM, neither chapter is being investigated in terms of the student conduct process “due to the actions of a few of their members.”
Preston also flatly disputed the notion that his officers acted improperly. There was criticism of the response after one video appeared to show a Morgantown officer firing a pepper ball directly into a crowd, but Preston said that was inaccurate.
“We extensively went through every single bodycam footage that we had,” he said. “We went through every available social media video that we had. And many of the social media videos we had were doctored. Some of them, by the angle, appeared to be one thing, but when you look at another one of the exact same incident, you can see other things.”
The brunt of the work, Preston said, is done. However, investigators are continuing to identify those involved in the “riot” that occurred in a law enforcement cooperative zone.
“I anticipate those charges to trickle in,” he said. “I don’t see us taking a big group of folks in. Our objective was to go after the most egregious of the people doing things: throwing, setting stuff on fire, or being straight up confrontational with the police, trying to incite a riot, or trying to engate the crowd into more activities.”
WVU released the following statement through a spokeswomen:
“It is unfortunate that the behavior on Spruce Street a month ago has resulted in these charges but interfering with law enforcement officers cannot be taken lightly.
Sadly, what began as a snow carnival became dangerous, requiring officers to step in. The order to disperse was met with objects being thrown, endangering both officers and individuals, which led to Morgantown Police using pepper balls and smoke grenades.
The students involved may also face discipline under the Student Conduct Code once the criminal charges are resolved.”
It is unclear if individual fraternity chapters are taking any actions against the members involved in the incident.
A full list of those charged can be found here.