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ACLU wants new investigation into Roosevelt police pepper spraying Haka dancers

Published December 5, 2011 4:56 pm

Police • Internal investigation cleared officers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday called for the Duchesne County Attorney to investigate how two Roosevelt police officers used pepper spray on football fans dancing the Haka.

The ACLU said it wanted an independent investigation because it was unsatisfied with the review by the Roosevelt police. ACLU of Utah interim legal director Joe Cohn said the police review, which cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, ignored witnesses who said they did not think the Haka dancers were aggressive.

Cohn said he wants a county attorney to do a "fair analysis" of what happened and consider whether criminal charges should be filed against the two officers.

"Ultimately you want a better police department," Cohn said, "and the way you get a better police department is by having accountability."

Roosevelt police Chief Rick Harrison did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Monday and the Duchesne County Attorney, Stephen Foote, was also unavailable for comment.

Union High School, where the dancers were pepper sprayed, sits on the line of Duchesne and Uintah counties, and Foote previously said the spraying happened on the Uintah County side.

On Oct. 20, Uintah High School beat Union 17-14, and after the game some Union fans lined to dance the Haka — a traditional Polynesian dance that includes stomping, hand motions and chanting — near one of the football field's exits.

Records provided last month by Roosevelt police state the two officers assigned to work security at the game, Luke Stradinger and Wade Butterfield, were already braced for trouble because in the past the rivalry had resulted in fights. Police and other witnesses reported hearing some spectators in the Polynesian group shouting obscenities at the departing referees, displaying poor sportsmanship or making inappropriate comments toward Uintah High School cheerleaders trying to leave the stadium after the game, records show.

Stradinger can be heard on a video telling everyone to make a hole so that the players could leave, but the video shows the dancers did not. Witness statements from those standing amid the group indicate some acknowledged they heard the order, but others said they didn't hear it or that police didn't give them enough time to respond.

Butterfield said he used his baton as he had been trained to strike a man in a fighter's stance until he lowered his arms. Stradinger deployed pepper spray. Both witnesses and police indicate that as soon as the group moved back, because of the spray, the football teams left the field. Harrison has said eight or nine people reported being sprayed, including a 4-year-old boy.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle