Video captures Utah police using force on Haka dancers at game
A video posted on the Internet shows the Roosevelt police telling dancers to "make a hole" then firing pepper spray and wielding batons to disperse the group.
The video, posted on YouTube by a spectator whose husband was among the dancers, captures how quickly the episode devolved. Someone, presumably one of two Roosevelt police officers, is heard giving the "make a hole" order just a second before fans of Union High School football began dancing the Haka, a traditional Polynesian dance popular at high school games and performed by the Brigham Young University football team before games.
The group danced at one of the football field exits. The dancing proceeded for 17 seconds with police continuing the command. Then the two officers walk into the frame.
One officer appears to be holding the can of pepper spray in his right hand. About 10 seconds after entering the frame, dancers begin retreating, apparently in reaction to being struck by the pepper spray.
About the same time, a second police officer is seen striking dancers with his club.
The cell phone camera, being held by Breana Pritchett, then becomes obstructed, but someone is heard yelling, "I'm going to sue you guys!"
"I think, personally, [police] were intimidated or they felt like they were losing control," Pritchett said Monday in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Pritchett, 21, said her husband's cousins play for Union, which was playing Uintah High School that night. Her husband is among a group of male Polynesian family members, ages 11 to mid-20s, who perform the Haka after games. Pritchett and her husband live in Roosevelt, but other family members are from Salt Lake County.
"Every time they do their Haka, I also pull out my cell phone and record it," Pritchett said. "I have a laptop full of recordings because my kids love it."
Pritchett said her husband has bruises on his arm from the baton. Pritchett's 4-year-old son also was near the dancers and received pepper spray in his eyes.
"He was screaming crying telling me, 'Mom the cops hurt me.' "
The video opens with a group of people moving through the group of Polynesians. One Union football player tried to move through the crowd, too, but was told by the dancers to back up. Then an officer is heard saying "make a hole" and the dancing begins.
Pritchett said the parents of the Union player later apologized for what happened.
After the spray and baton was deployed, Pritchett said, she asked the officers for their badge numbers. Pritchett said the officers ignored her at least three times, then another police officer arrived and took her statement.
Roosevelt police issued a statement Friday asking anyone with information on what happened and those wanting to file a complaint to contact Chief Rick Harrison or Detective Pete Butcher at the Roosevelt Police Department, 255 S. State St.
Sierra Hill, an 11th grade student at Union, said she filed her complaint Monday at the police department.
"I think it was just uncalled for," Hill said of the pepper spray and baton. "They could have approached it in a different way."
Hill was standing beside the dancers and inhaled pepper spray. She said on Monday she still has a burning sensation when she eats.
Bingham High School head football coach Dave Peck said his team started performing the Haka which includes stomping, hand motions, and chanting on the field about six years ago before games to excite the team. After the Bingham and Hunter football teams performed the dance in front of each other before a game, the region directors decided the dance was becoming too heated and forbid it from being performed on the field.
"I don't know that it's meant to be intimidating," Peck said. "We don't do it facing the other team when we do it during the playoffs [or] whatever. We'll do it facing our crowd. It gets our crowd excited."
Harrison did not return a message fromThe Tribuneon Monday. Uintah won the game 17 to 14.
Bill Oram contributed to this report.
About the Haka
The Haka originated in New Zealand and was popularized by that country's rugby team, which performs it before games.