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10/28/2018 12:11:00 PM
Terre Haute, ISU to discuss 2018 homecoming violence

Lisa Trigg, Tribune-Star

Drunken and sometimes violent behavior on Indiana State's homecoming weekend is getting out of hand, city police say, leading city and university officials to a discussion this week on how to improve safety while maintaining homecoming spirit.

“This was the worst I've ever seen — nothing like this level of violence,” Assistant Police Chief Shawn Keen of the fights and disorderly conduct Oct. 13, the day of the homecoming football game. 

One factor is “The Walk” — a pub crawl in which students walk about 20-plus blocks from downtown Terre Haute along Wabash Avenue to Memorial Stadium.

Another is a more recent development: Pop-up parties advertised via social media to attract out-of-towners looking to party and get rowdy away from home.

A violent attack captured on video Oct. 13 shows a man beaten unconscious during a large fight less than a city block from the Indiana State University homecoming football game.

That video – and many other reports of fights, disorderly conduct and a shooting – likely will be discussed during the meeting between Indiana State University President Deborah Curtis, Mayor Duke Bennett, city Police Chief John Plasse, ISU Police and other ISU officials.

Many factors played into the violence and other bad acts of the weekend. But one common connection, Chief Plasse said, is homecoming itself.

Universities take pride in their homecomings, which are intended to attract alumni and rally support for the home team. But in many ways, times have changed.

Alumni gatherings still attract ISU graduates who reunite and relive their glory days, and some enjoy visiting former watering holes of their college days during The Walk.

Business benefit

Long-time Terre Haute establishments downtown and along Wabash Avenue still welcome participants of The Walk, and expect responsible behavior.

Five of those establishments filed temporary amendments to their floor plans this year, allowing them to extend their permits to adjacent spaces outside their businesses, such as side streets and parking lots.

Temporary permits to sell alcohol at tents along Wabash Avenue also supplement the alcohol availability.

Walkers had about 20 locations Oct. 13 where they could stop and consume alcohol between the ISU campus downtown and Memorial Stadium. Seven of those stops were at temporarily permitted spots.

“How much is too much?” Plasse asked when it comes to access to alcohol.

The Walk used to be centered around stops at brick-and-mortar establishments, said the chief, who is an ISU graduate and has in the past made The Walk himself.

“Look at what has changed,” Keen said. “There are a lot more stops, so there is more alcohol consumption.”

Alcohol sales

Indiana State Excise police officers enforce the laws and rules of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, and issue alcohol sales permits.

No limit exists for the number of temporary permits that can be issued for a special event in Terre Haute, said Lindsey Hyer, communications director of the Alcohol & Tobacco Commission.

While there is a quota limiting alcohol permits for established businesses in each Indiana community, temporary permits can be issued after applications are reviewed by the state.

But, those permits should also receive the signature of local law enforcement agencies, Hyer said.

In the case of the Oct. 13 temporary permits, Chief Plasse said THPD was not notified by all permit holders.

Indiana Excise Police issued seven alcohol sales permits for locations along Wabash Avenue and around Memorial Stadium for Indiana State University’s homecoming Oct. 13.

Those seven permits were among 20 total issued in Vigo County for Friday and Saturday. Of those seven permits, local police agencies were notified as required in only five instances, according to permit applications obtained from excise police.

Another five permits were issued for ISU alumni gatherings on Friday and Saturday. Since those events were closed to the public, police notification was not required. But one event on the ISU campus was reported in advance to ISU Police.

Maintaining order

The task of maintaining public safety during homecoming weekend is multi-leveled, city police said, and is similar to another annual large event attracting thousands of out-of-towners to Terre Haute: the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza.

That event at the Vigo County Fairgrounds in late August has been well-received by diesel enthusiasts. But a side effect was the after-hours parties on the city's south side, with large gatherings on business parking lots. Underage alcohol consumption and fights were well documented.

To combat the problems, city and county police teamed up with Indiana State Police and Excise Police to patrol for impaired driving and traffic violations and pop-up parties on parking lots.

Plasse said that kind of multi-agency cooperation could be organized for ISU's homecoming.

“We have no issue helping them,” Plasse said of extra police presence and patrols during homecoming, “but they're making money on it, so they should pay for the extra police.”

He said he had a similar understanding with Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology when a controversial speaker was expected to appear on campus recently.

RHIT agreed to pay the cost of the police presence, Plasse said, but cancellation of the event meant the coverage was not needed.

Excise, ISU police

One excise officer worked ISU Homecoming on Oct. 13, said ATC's Hyer.

Records show two people were issued warnings for alcohol related offenses arising from an incident at 1701 S. Third St.

One warning was for minor transporting alcoholic beverage, and one warning was for inducing minor to unlawfully possess alcoholic beverage.

Two ISU police officers were also assigned to The Walk, said ISU Police Chief Joe Newport.

A total of 21 ISU officers were on duty Saturday, with shifts beginning at 7 a.m. and concluding at 6 p.m., according to information ISU Chief Joe Newport submitted to the Tribune-Star.

Five officers were assigned to the Tent City outside Memorial Stadium from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Three other officers were at Tent City and roaming the football game. Six officers were assigned exclusively to the football game. Two officers were assigned to The Walk, and then to Tent City. Five officers worked shifts during the homecoming parade in downtown Terre Haute.

Newport said he believes the number of ISU officers on duty were sufficient for crowd control during the parade and homecoming activities at the stadium.

ISU Police, he said, have a strong partnership with city, county, state and excise police.

“THPD has many of their officers present on Wabash Avenue during The Walk, which is not a university-sponsored or university-sanctioned event, and has for years,” Newport said. “Many others work other details throughout the weekend.”

When asked about calls for service and incident reports filed by ISU Police for the homecoming weekend, Newport listed 13 reports, some of which may or may not be related to homecoming.

Who's local, who's not

Terre Haute Police this year had five extra officers on patrol Saturday to respond where needed during the parade, The Walk and homecoming activities.

In one incident, a storefront window was smashed near 21st and Wabash.

Keen, who was one duty, said city police responded to eight fights in two hours.

In at least two of those fights, Keen said, he personally heard the context. The fights were about “who was local, and who was not.”

An influx of people mostly from Indianapolis caused friction with local people, for whatever reason, he said.

The area between 25th Street and Brown Avenue along Wabash Avenue seemed to be the center of the violence, Keen said. 

The young man knocked unconscious is seen on video in verbal exchanges with a group of people who shove him and punch him to the ground.

Another video shows a brawl moving along the sidewalk as passing cars and spectators watch.

Those two videos were released to media by city police in hopes of identifying suspects in the violence.

By the time police arrived a few minutes after the fights, participants had scattered and people were hesitant to talk about it.

“When we responded, everyone scattered,” Shawn said of the fight near Brown and Wabash. “We were there 15 to 20 minutes when people came up to us with video to show what was going on.”

Another video circulating on social media showed a brawl late Saturday night in a downtown restaurant. Several people participated, but the melee broke up and the fighters scattered before police arrived.

Public intoxication

State law changed a few years ago regarding public intoxication.

A person must be seen as a danger to themselves or others before the person can be arrested for being drunk in public, Keen said.

That means that people who are “falling down drunk” can be arrested, but in the case of The Walk, that could be a lot of people.

Plasse said one solution could be to have a transport wagon available for those picked up along the route so they can be driven to and processed at the Vigo County Jail in groups, rather than taking an officer away from the street for each individual transport.

This year's level of intoxication was remarkable, police said. Intoxicated individuals were walking out into Wabash Avenue in front of police cars with lights and sirens activated, said Keen.

“That's our concern with that,” Shawn said. “Some were too drunk to realize to get out of the way. But we couldn't stop to take care of them because we were on our way to incidents near the stadium.”

Tent City

The set up at Tent City outside the stadium had its own issues.

ISU Chief Newport said he believes the number of ISU officers on duty at the stadium were sufficient for crowd control, although city police were called to help when fights broke out in the Tent City.

To resolve the fighting, police pushed the crowd out of the area reserved for alcohol sales and consumption, Newport said. No arrests or injuries were reported.

Attendance in Tent City and the area outside the stadium was estimated at 3,000 people.

A tent hosted by ISU's Office of Alumni Engagment had an estimated 1,000 visitors, said Rex Kendall, executive director of alumni engagement.

That office confirms tent reservations and assigns each tent. Individuals and groups having tents must agreed to Tent City policies posted online.

Alumni of current and former groups such as fraternities and sororities can participate in Tent City, and community organizations can also reserve tents.

Not sanctioned

ISU has long withheld any sanctioning of The Walk. It occurs mostly away from the main campus, though not far.

But knowing that The Walk will occur with or without university approval, ISU has promoted safe drinking, sober walking buddies, and free rides home to participants. Those programs were available this year as in past years, Newport said.

Going forward, the discussion occurring this week between city and campus officials could have an impact on making The Walk, and ISU homecoming, safer for the community and visitors.

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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