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Ravers say cops were too rough making bust

Published August 23, 2005 1:24 am

Utah County: Sheriff defends the actions, denies wrongdoing
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Partygoers at a rave in Spanish Fork Canyon that was busted by police Saturday night say officers used brutal and excessive force to clear the crowd.

As many as 90 police officers from several agencies, including SWAT members and major crimes investigators, stormed the DJ-driven dance party around 11:30 p.m. dressed in full SWAT gear and holding automatic weapons.

A helicopter announced the police presence as it crested a nearby hill and began shining a spotlight on the outdoor dance area, said 19-year-old Scott Benton of Logan.

"The cops just came in wearing full Army [camouflage]. It was basically brute force," Benton said. "I had a gun put in my face and was told to get out of there."

Standing in a crowd of people near the main stage, Alisha Matagi says she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when she was thrown to the ground, punched, kicked and handcuffed by police.

"I did absolutely nothing wrong," she said. Matagi was arrested with about 60 other partyers. She was booked into the Utah County Jail on the suspicion of resisting arrest and failing to obey an officer, according to police records.

About 1,000 people were cleared in less than a half-hour from the private ranch owned by the Childs family in the Diamond Fork area of Spanish Fork Canyon, rave promoters said. Several party attendees told The Salt Lake Tribune that officers barked orders fraught with profanity, beat people to the ground and used their weapons to intimidate the crowd.

A video of the opening moments of the bust, taken by Jeffrey Coombs and snatched from the ground by another partier as Coombs was tackled, shows the officers using force on individuals as they took over the crowd.

Utah County Sheriff James Tracy said Monday that he had seen the video and called it an accurate representation of the bust.

"I stand by everything that was done there that night. We did use some force. It was appropriate and necessary to take those who were fighting us into custody," Tracy said.

He also said that no officers used profanity as they conversed with partiers, nor did they punch, kick, Mace or use tear gas on any of the attendees.

"It's all a lie and we refute every word of that," said Tracy.

But the video clearly shows an officer using profanity as he demands the music be turned off.

"Turn that off. Turn that music off or I'll take your ass to jail," the officer can be heard saying to the DJ. In the video, the area where people had been dancing transforms into what looks like a battlefield with groups of officers surrounding ravers on the ground, guns drawn and assault dogs in tow.

"I saw a girl tackled to the ground for no reason because she told them not to touch her. It was vicious," Benton said.

Police said the party Saturday night was the third event held in Utah County during the past month. The all-night parties attract a host of illegal activities including drug use, theft, sexual assault and underage drinking, according to Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Darren Gilbert.

Saturday's party, named Versus II, had been tracked by police for several weeks, Gilbert said. Police planned the bust when they discovered that the rave's promoters had not filed for a mass gathering permit through the County Commission office. To have more than 250 at an event without that permit is a violation of the law, Gilbert said.

Party promotor Brandon Fullmer said he purchased a mass gathering permit through the Utah County Health Department about three weeks ago. The purchase of that permit, which ensures water, sanitation and medical services, was confirmed by County Health employee Jay Stone.

Fullmer did not know that a similar permit, which requires a security plan and event details, needed to be acquired.

The sheriff had little sympathy for the promoters or those at the rave. "They did nothing more than ensure this was a venue for illegal drug use and consumption," Tracy said. Officers confiscated ecstasy, marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and mushrooms, he said.

Among those arrested for drug possession were several security guards hired by Fullmer to patrol the event. Guards at security check points confiscated alcohol and drugs as ravers filed into the party, Fullmer said.

"[Security guards] have no legal statutory authority to take and hold controlled substances. It's against the law for them to have them," Tracy said.