LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Police use pepper spray, tear gas to disperse U of L fans as campus celebration escalates


Police in riot gear cleared Cardinal Boulevard early Tuesday morning as students' celebration of the University of Louisville's national basketball championship escalated with fireworks, body surfing and nudity.

John Drees, a U of L spokesperson said the crowd was dispersed because a Louisville Fire Department arson officer was attacked while trying to break up an "incident." Drees confirmed that police used pepper spray and tear gas to help disperse the crowd.

Reporters on the scene described being hit by pepper ball pellets and being choked by the released spray. Tear gas canisters were also dispersed.

A police loudspeaker deadpanned: "Do not throw bottles at police officer. The party is over."

Staff members also reported the officers were firing paint balls at crowd members who refused to disperse in an attempt to identify them later. Police in riot gear had pushed the crowd back to Third Street, were they largely dispersed.

LMPD spokesperson Carey Klain said officers were "monitoring the situation in all areas. Larger crowds appear to be in the U of L area. We have deployed more units to that area."

Klain said officers had made 12 arrests and 270 incident runs as of 2:20 a.m. for reports of shots fired in celebration, domestic disputes, disorderly conduct, alcohol intoxication and fights.

The arrests included four for alcohol intoxication and disorderly conduct, one for receiving stolen firearm, one for a handgun seized, two for juvenile disorderly conduct. There were 70 calls for shots fired in celebration.

Earlier celebration

Jubilant University of Louisville fans surged onto Cardinal Boulevard and other Louisville roads after riding a roller-coaster of emotions, as the Cardinals won the NCAA men's basketball national championship Monday night.

They roared in sports bars. They shouted in living rooms. They set off fireworks around the U of L Belknap Campus. They blared horns from Broadway to Bardstown Road.

U of L students - many of whom hadn't been born when the Cardinals last won a national championship in 1986 - surged onto streets around campus and elsewhere around town after their team won 82-76 over Michigan.

Beer was flying, women were hoisted onto shoulders, horns were blaring and flags were flying at U of L amid shouts of "We did it!"

"There's no better feeling," said Abby Middleton, a senior, who watched the game at J. Gumbo's, a restaurant just off campus that was overflowing with patrons. "It's my last year. I always believed in them."

By 1:30, portions of Cardinal Boulevard had become a mosh pit, complete with nudity and body surfing.

But as the students' joy was echoed loudly around town, police mobilized in force to contain any excess enthusiasm in such gathering spots as Bardstown Road in the Highlands, West Broadway and 4th Street Live.

A University of Louisville spokesman reported at least six arrests and two minor injuries. U of L police reported thrown bottles, burned shirts, climbed trees, fireworks and "general stupidity" at Cardinal Boulevard. Police confiscated some fireworks in the campus area, but many were still getting set off in the midst of the crowd.

Louisville Metro Police said they were monitoring the crowds but reported no immediate major problems. They closed Broadway around 21st Street around 12:30 a.m. The crowd there was beginning to thin by 1:30, but plenty showed no signs of wanting to stop the party.

Two or three students at the campus were taken away by police after trying to set fire to what appeared to be some University of Kentucky gear.

Crowds blocked a portion of Bardstown Road after the game, with some climbing into trees and atop cars.

During the game, fans gathered around screens everywhere from sports bars to dorm lobbies to even a laundromat.

The fans' first-half groans gave way to swelling second-half cheers as the Cardinals pressed, dunked and blitzed their way past Michigan's early lead. But the frequent lead changes and tight score left many nails bitten raw down to the final minute.

Cluckers near the U of L Belknap Campus was packed to capacity during the game by patrons sporting Cardinal red. Some fans who couldn't get in remained outside to watch through the windows.

The Granville Inn near campus was packed with fans who had been there since as early as 1 p.m.

Still others watched in U of L campus dorm lobbies.

"I'm not 21, so I can't go to a bar," said Aya Zbedah, 18, watching with six others in the lobby of Kurz Hall. "I figured it was just convenient to come downstairs."

At 4th Street Live, Cards fans watched intently at the Sports and Social Club, while still more gathered atop the Monkey Wrench in the Highlands area. At the Laundry and Tan Connection, customers craned their necks to watch flat screens above the washers.

About 200 metro police and corrections officers, Jefferson County sheriff's deputies, metro emergency-medical-services personnel and U of L police were working at places where celebrations were expected. That's about the same number that were on duty following U of L's Saturday evening victory over Wichita State.

"We are on the cusp of doing something great - celebrate" with good intentions, said Lt. Col. Kenton Buckner, a Louisville Metro Police assistant chief who oversees special operations, at a briefing at police headquarters Monday afternoon.

He was referring to both the U of L men's and women's teams. The women are playing for the national championship Tuesday night.

Nearly all of the officers were assigned at or near Belknap Campus, 4th Street Live, the Bardstown Road corridor in the Highlands and the West Broadway corridor, with a concentration between 26th and 28th streets, Buckner said. He said police planned to close off streets to traffic, or limit vehicle access, where needed.

U of L spokesman John Drees said if the women win their championship game tonight, the same safety plan is expected to be used again, although a smaller crowd is expected.

Buckner said there were nine arrests in the Broadway area after Saturday's game, with crowds clearing out around 1 a.m. He said the arrests were for menacing, receiving stolen property, disorderly conduct, fighting and one incident of a stolen car, which was quickly recovered. Buckner also said there was one police run to a report of shots fired.

Much of Saturday's problems involved teenagers, who should be in school today and may not be out tonight in such large numbers, Buckner said.

"We will not tolerate uncalled-for activity," Buckner said.

Police blocked some of the roads around Belknap Campus starting around 7 p.m., and planned to keep them closed until crowds thinned out.