ROOSEVELT— A small town football game ended in chaos when police used pepper spray on fans and players to break up a post-game celebration.
The game took place Thursday night in Roosevelt on the Union High Cougars' home turf. It was the final game of the season for two winless teams —Uintah High and Union High. The schools are 30 miles apart and are longtime rivals.
Union lost the game, and as the players left the field a group of Polynesian fans tried to boost the team's morale by performing the Haka, a fierce traditional war chant often performed at football and rugby games around the state.
The group of about 15 men and boys were blocking the exit from the field, though, so two officers ordered them to move.
A Roosevelt resident who asked to be identified only as Breana, said her husband was among the performers.
"The cops were yelling, 'Make a hole! Make a hole!' But the coaches, the players, family members were saying, 'It's OK. It's OK, Let them do it,'" she said.
Witnesses say police didn't listen. Instead they began spraying the crowd of performers, players and fans with pepper spray.
"It was continual spraying and spraying," Breana said.
She said her husband was hit in the face with a police baton and sprayed with the pepper spray. Her 4-year-old son was also exposed to the spray, Breana said.
Shawn Mitchell said his young son and daughter and his mother-in-law were affected by the pepper spray as well. He called the police response to the Haka an overreaction.
"I didn't see anything that looked like there could be a threat," he said.
Mitchell did, however, acknowledge that the impromptu performance might have played a role in how police responded.
"If they're going to do something like (the Haka), maybe some planning could be done ahead of time," he suggested.
Roosevelt police declined a request for an interview Friday, but did say that the incident is under investigation. They also want to hear from anyone who saw what happened after the game.
The people who performed the Haka are mostly from the Wasatch Front. They traveled to Roosevelt to watch a relative play his final high school game at Union.
Union fan Jason Kelly said the way police treated the visitors was an embarrassment to the community of Roosevelt.
"I've never seen anything like it," Kelly said. "It was totally unprovoked."
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