Fans want call of unnecessary roughness after USF win
Witnesses say the security staff at Raymond James Stadium used unnecessary roughness when fans rushed the field after a victory.
By AMBER MOBLEY
Published September 28, 2005
TAMPA - As the clock ticked down the final seconds of the University of South Florida Bulls' huge upset victory over Louisville on Saturday night, fans got excited. Spectators rushed from the stands onto the football field at Raymond James Stadium, some of them vaulting over a concrete divider.
Instead of high fives, hugs and chest butts with USF players, fans were met with Tasers, batons and handcuffs from security personnel.
The hundreds of police officers and security guards at the scene were simply trying to keep fans off the field for their own safety, officials said.
But some fans say the officers used excessive force.
USF professor Kathleen Armstrong compared the scene to a '60s or '70s war protest.
Two or three officers would take down one fan, "throwing (the fan) on the ground, punching them in the head, the chest, the back or slamming them against the wall," she said.
Alec Smith, president of a school spirit group called the Beef Studs, said, "One officer was swinging his stick at people's hands who were still in the stands. ... It was just really disturbing."
By the end of the scuffle, flip-flops littered the field and several people were in custody. Tampa police arrested five men, ages 19 to 31. Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies arrested a man for resisting arrest with violence, battery on a law enforcement officer and trespassing. Tampa police said one person was shocked with a Taser for resisting arrest.
Attendee Theresa Kugel said officers were "hunting down students" who broke past security on the field.
"I realize they were given a job to do. I realize the students were told not to come down on the field. And I realize that some of the students were getting out of hand, but there's a difference between force and excessive force," said the 1984 USF alumna.
"Basically what I saw was excessive force."
Mickey Farrell, director of operations for the Tampa Sports Authority, which manages the stadium, said the security staff "wanted others to get the message that they were not welcome on the field."
"The staff was saying, "You're not supposed to come down,' and there were signs in the stadium saying not to come down. ... We tried to make sure they understood that. Some didn't and they were, most of them, taken down," Farrell said.
"It wasn't a gestapo kind of action," he said. "Each officer ultimately determined what they ended up doing with the person."
Most of the 145 law enforcement officers and 125 private security officers were positioned on the field to keep back the crowd and to keep the fans safe, said Farrell.
Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy and Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said their agencies received no complaints of police brutality after Saturday's game.
"This was a big win for USF, and the last thing we wanted to see was it turning into a negative," McElroy said. Some fans put themselves in a position "where the officers were forced to respond," she said.
"These kids made the choice to do something very dangerous: jumping out of the stands onto the field and breaking the law."
Fans surging toward the field after USF's 45-14 victory over Louisville were chanting "They're coming down! They're coming down!," referring to the goalposts, security officials said.
But jumping from the stands or being hit by a falling goalpost could cause serious injury or death, officials said, and the volatile atmosphere could have led to injuries.
According to Farrell, someone broke a leg at Saturday's game and also when fans rushed the field two years ago.
Goal posts have been responsible for at least 22 deaths nationally in the last 20 years, according to SafeUSA, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.
And because tensions are high after games, especially big games, someone could get beaten up when the winning team's fans mix with the losing team's players, Farrell said.
"If a fan says the wrong thing to a 6-foot-5, 300-pound-lineman," he said, "that could lead to something really bad."