Tensions started long before the tear gas canisters were fired, but Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Saturday night’s violence at the unsanctioned Deltopia street party started after someone hit a UCSB Police officer in the head with a backpack full of liquor bottles.
Brown reported to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, and said his department will be exploring every possibility to avoid repeating what happened this weekend.
A large cadre of law enforcement officers arrested and cited dozens of people on Friday and Saturday for alcohol-related issues, playing music loud enough to violate the county festival ordinance, overcrowded balconies and other things.
Several people were arrested for inciting a riot on Friday night and someone took a swing at a deputy, Brown said.
However, even more people — now estimated at 20,000 to 25,000 — came into town Saturday and wandered the streets getting intoxicated, Brown said. Many of them came from outside the area and “essentially had no place to go,” he said.
There was a lull around dinnertime, but the “civil unrest” started around 9:30 p.m., Brown said.
What “touched off the problem” was when a UCSB officer and several deputies witnessed an assault on Del Playa Drive and went to arrest the suspect, Brown said. The officer grabbed the suspect as he was running away, and the suspect was holding a backpack by the straps.
The suspect “wound up and swung this backpack and hit this police officer in the face,” Brown said.
The officer’s forehead was cut open and he was knocked to the ground. Deputies went after the suspect, now identified as 17-year-old Desmond Edwards of Los Angeles, and arrested him.
“This commotion combined with the backup units that responded to assist the officers attracted the attention of the crowd, and a large group of people surrounded the officers and were very unruly, causing the officers to call for further assistance,” Brown told the supervisors. “At one point there were rocks and bottles thrown by certain members of the crowd toward the officers. That’s what set off the response.”
Brown didn’t go into detail about the “response”: four hours of law enforcement treating the crowd as an unlawful assembly and trying to get people to disperse.
Officers eventually resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets to get people off Del Playa and the other roads packed with people during the day’s events.
Law enforcement personnel had “admirable restraint given the circumstances,” Brown said.
There were about 90 law enforcement personnel on duty when the disturbance broke out, and 106 backup officers from neighboring agencies were called in. The county hasn’t calculated the total cost in overtime and other expenses, Brown said.
Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents Isla Vista, said the situation could have been a lot worse. Unlike past years, there were no deaths and no life-threatening injuries.
Farr said she learned that a lot of outside people are attracted to the area for its party reputation, and many of them have no connection to Isla Vista or students. They have nowhere to go, nowhere to stay and nothing to do but wander the streets.
They come from all over the state — or other states — and have no respect for the community, she said. These events have huge impacts on the non-student residents of Isla Vista, she noted.
Brown said people drive hours to attend Isla Vista parties every weekend, so it’s not unique to Deltopia and Halloween.
The violence isn’t either: There was a stabbing and near-riot last month in the same place — the 6600 block of Del Playa.
Local students aren’t completely absolved from blame, but there are always a lot of outsiders who are drawn to Isla Vista because of its party atmosphere reputation, Brown said.
The supervisors asked about closing the area to outsiders and limiting parking, and Brown said the county will be exploring every legal possibility to stop such incidents from happening again.
The county also want to pursue academic repercussions for students involved in riotous behavior here, and suggested working with university systems on this. If people got expelled for inciting a riot or being involved, they may think twice about doing it, Brown said.
UCSB student leaders came to Tuesday’s meeting to decry the violence and recognize that local students and Isla Vista residents bear responsibility for conduct in that community.
Alex Moore, the Associated Students external vice president of local affairs, asked for an independent investigation of the events so the opinion is “formed by more than old prejudices.”
He suggested the Civil Grand Jury.
Moore said he is outraged by the weekend’s events, and hopes the community can funnel that frustration and anger into positive results for the future.
The board praised Moore for coming and recognizing the problem, and Farr said she hopes to keep working with the university to work on solutions.
The sheriff’s criminal investigations unit will be looking into the night’s events and seeing what led to the escalation. They will review video from the camera security towers, which were recording all weekend.
Anyone with video or photos of the riot is asked to submit them through the Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository (LEEDIR) by clicking here. The website is optimized for use with a mobile device. LEEDIR is also available as an app for Apple iOS and Android devices. Photo and video submissions may be made anonymously.
The unsanctioned Deltopia street party has been growing every year, but last year was a “relatively controlled event” with 22 arrests and 116 citations for mostly alcohol offenses, Brown said.
This Friday night, there were 36 arrests and 88 citations, including assault — the incident involving the deputy — and inciting a riot. On Saturday, there were 130 arrests on charges including robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on an officer and inciting a riot.
Half of those were for drunk in public, but at least 17 of those were related to the “civil disturbance” and those people were booked on charges of participating in an unlawful assembly and refusing to disperse, which are both misdemeanors.
Edwards is being charged as an adult on felony charges of assault and resisting a police officer for his alleged role in triggering the disturbance.
There were 190 citations, with many of them for alcohol-related issues such as minor in possession of alcohol and open container.
Of the contacted people who claimed a school, 60 percent were from outside Santa Barbara County, Brown said.
The crowd grew substantially from last year as well, from 15,000 to 18,000 in 2013 to an estimated 20,000 to 25,000, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Enforcing the festival ordinance — which prohibits live music that draws a crowd — was controversial this year, since it hasn’t been in the past. Eleven people were cited for violating the ordinance last weekend.