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Police break up "riot" near West Virginia University that school says started as "playful time in the snow"

Police called an incident Friday near West Virginia University a "riot" after the crowd began throwing glass bottles and rocks at officers after being told to disperse so snow plows and salt trucks could get through. "It is unfortunate that what began today on Spruce Street as a playful time in the snow, turned into a dangerous and threatening situation for students and law enforcement officers alike," university officials said in a statement.

West Virginia University officials said a large crowd gathered in Morgantown near the school's campus after classes were canceled due to frigid temperatures and snow. Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston told student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, that he estimated the crowd to be between 750-900 people. 

Police said the crowd was consuming alcohol openly, sledding, snowboarding and blocking the roadway, CBS Pittsburgh reported. School officials told the crowd to move so snow plows and salt trucks could get down the street. 

"We had winter sports activities that turned into criminal behavior and violence," Preston told the Athenaeum. "They started attacking city workers as they plowed the streets."  

The crowd then began to throw glass bottles, rocks and other items at the officers and Public Works crews, police said.

Officers went behind the snow plow so they wouldn't be hit.

Police say three officers deployed pepper ball munitions, targeting the building above the people throwing projectiles so the balls would disintegrate on the building and the powder would fall onto the crowd. They say the officers were trying to cover the retreat of other workers and officers in the area.

According to police, the incident was declared a riot around 3:50 p.m. and officers ordered the crowd to disperse.

When the crowd failed to do so, officers issued a second notice to disperse, but the crowd again refused.

Police say officers then deployed a Long-Range Acoustic Device, which is a directional loud speaker that emits a "steady annoying noise."

At that time, some members of the crowd set a fire with debris in the middle of the street.

Officers deployed the Long-Range Acoustic Device in a different direction, and police said more than half the crowd dispersed after about five minutes. But those who still refused to leave were confrontational and continued to fuel the street fire and throw objects at the officers.

Two smoke grenade rounds were then fired on the street. The remaining crowd dispersed at that time.

No arrests were made, but university officials said video is being reviewed to see if charges should be filed. There were no injuries reported.