BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- One officer has been suspended after campus police used pepper spray on University of Maryland students at an off-campus graduation party in College Park back in May.
After a two-month investigation into the incident, Police Chief David Mitchell concluded officers could have handled their response better, saying they should have moved along that night. Instead, he said he's embarrassed by their actions. "We don't get it wrong too often, but we got it wrong here," Mitchell said in a statement.
Officers were called to the party May 22 after someone reported a fight and suggested weapons, specifically a bat, were involved. Newly released body camera video shows a student who answered the door debunking that report, telling officers it was a bogus report made by people who had been turned away from the party.
Skeptical officers instead demanded they be let inside and ordered everyone out of the party. "Everyone out, party is over," an officer can be heard saying. In the confusion, officers deployed pepper spray twice.
Afterward, ambulances were called to treat those hit with the irritant. Two students were arrested that night.
Outrage played out across social media after video of the incident surfaced. Those attending the party, most of whom were African American, called into question whether the strategy employed by responding officers had to do with their race.
"To feel you can't celebrate that in a private peaceful gathering... It just prompts the question, 'Why?'" said one student.
The use of force triggered more than outrage, though. It also sparked a two-month internal review. In the end, Chief Mitchell concluded the first use of pepper spray was justified as officers were surrounded while they tried to disperse the crowd. But he ruled that the second spray was not, particularly because it was used on the wrong person.
"We should have handled the situation with more diplomacy," said Mitchell. "And it could have been avoided."
In a statement, university president Wallace Loh also admonished the responding officers for escalating the situation. "The antagonist approach of the police in this initial encounter, and the demand for a break-up of the party, led to an escalation of tensions," he wrote.
The unidentified officer behind the second spray was suspended for two weeks without pay, said the chief, who also ordered additional training in areas of bias and diversity.
Charges were dropped against the two students arrested that night. Meanwhile, the agency says it is pursuing charges against those who made the false report that sparked the incident.
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