Several University of Massachusetts Amherst students were hospitalized and six were arrested, two for allegedly assaulting police officers, during a disturbance involving over 2,000 students at an off-campus apartment complex last weekend.
The episode began around noon Saturday with a large, outdoor party celebrating what is known as the “Blarney Blowout,” the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, on a grassy space near the Town House Apartment Complex on Meadow Street.
Within hours, emergency responders were quickly swamped with complaints and calls for paramedics to transport inebriated students to hospitals, Police Chief Scott Livingstone said.
Saturday’s riot “stretched public safety officers to the brink,” said Stephanie O’Keeffe, chairwoman of the town’s Board of Selectmen.
Livingston said a force of 20 officers from the Amherst Police Department, State Police, and university police force responded to the apartment complex in full riot gear at 4:45 p.m. When they arrived, officers saw students setting fires, breaking house and car windows, and throwing bottles at each other and at police, he said.
Amherst police were caught understaffed by the riot, he added.
Before police suited up to disperse the crowd, two hoax calls — one reporting a man with a gun and the other notifying authorities of a stabbing — sent officers to locations in southern Amherst.
Police later determined the hoax calls were made from numbers inside the Town House Apartment Complex.
“It’s an outrageous, horrible thing to be dealing with right now, but it’s also just a symptom of a larger problem,” O’Keeffe said, pointing to a lack of expeditiousness by UMass in informing the public about such events. “The community needs to have the university counter the perception of permissiveness about this kind of thing.”
In a letter published Thursday in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, John Kennedy, UMass Amherst’s vice chancellor for university relations, said the school was “appalled by the behavior of students” at the party.
The university is seeking to take swift action to discipline those it can prove were involved, said spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.
Among UMass Amherst’s students, the “Blarney Blowout” has increasingly become a “drunken street festival,” said O’Keeffe.
This year, local bars sold admission tickets, which vastly improved the situation downtown, she said, but the street party seemed to move to another location in response.
“The most disturbing thing is that the level of violence and hostility toward police is increasing,” she said.
Michael Carmasine, 20; Terence Meehan, 20; and Shane Niles, 20, were arrested on rioting and other charges, said Amherst police. Patrick Conlan, 23, was charged with rioting, disorderly conduct, and attempting to burn personal property. Christopher McGoldrick, 20, and Trevor Morency, 20, were charged with assault with a deadly weapon in allegedly throwing bottles at officers.
The six men were arraigned Monday in Eastern Hampshire District Court. Not-guilty pleas were entered on behalf of Meehan, Niles, and Conlan, who were released without bail. Not-guilty pleas were also entered on behalf of McGoldrick and Morency, who were released on $250 cash bail. Carmasine’s arraignment was postponed to March 28.
Blaguszewski said the university took preemptive action to limit dangerous behavior prior to the annual blowout, including placing restrictions on fraternities and sororities hosting parties and contacting student residences that have repeatedly been cited for violations of school policy.
The university has worked with the community to minimize mass “Barney Blowout” parties, he said, adding that the event was started by local bars to generate business prior to St. Patrick’s Day, when students are away for spring break.
“While we acknowledge the right of business owners to make a living, an event that encourages binge drinking at 11 a.m. should have no place in our community,” Kennedy wrote in his letter.