The Ghetto was quiet the Saturday night before St. Patrick’s Day, yet before the fabled day had even officially begun at midnight, the United Dairy Farmers at the corner of Brown and Stewart streets had already sold out of Budwieser and Bud Light 40-ounce bottles – an ominous sign of the mayhem to come.
“There was no activity in the neighborhood,” said Dan Curran, University of Dayton president, reflecting on Saturday night. “It was a good night in the neighborhood.”
But the calm of the night soon dissipated after a crowd – reported at over 1,000 people – had gathered on the 400 block of Kiefaber Street for a “40s at 4” party, where participants drink 40-ounce beers at 4 a.m. As the party went on, individuals on the south side of the street began climbing on cars, exciting students on the north side. Before long, the first 40-ounce bottle flew through the air and shattered on the pavement.
By 4:40 a.m., UD police arrived at the party for a false fire alarm. Bruce Burt, chief of university police and director of public safety, said officers had not expected what they found when they arrived – behavior the university hadn’t seen in over 15 years, according to Randy Groesbeck, a major in the university police department and public safety director of administration and security.
“We were very surprised with what we found at 4:30 in the morning, because we thought things had really calmed down for the night,” Burt said.
Burt said the department had planned to maximize manpower for Sunday during the day.
“Everything we were getting was that the bulk of the party was going to be on Sunday, thinking Sunday, 8, 10 in the morning, things would really start to escalate up through late afternoon and into the early evening, never anticipating that we were going to have something at 4:30 like that.
“So, a bunch of our officers had just gotten off shift, we had officers in finishing up reports, thinking the night was wound down and we were going to get things caught up and get ready for the next day,” Burt said.
Only four officers and a sergeant were on campus when the department arrived to find a mass of highly intoxicated young people. While Burt said officers were unable to get into the house because of the mass of people, Flyer News observed at least one university police officer enter the duplex of 429 Kiefaber Street before revelers began throwing glass bottles.
Once the glass started showering from both sides of the road and a propane tank went through a car window, university police officers decided to hold off on breaking up the party until they could gather enough manpower to address the situation. The officer in charge contacted the Dayton Police Department for assistance, the regional dispatch sent out a countywide request for help.
“[The officer’s] response was exactly the response he should have had,” Curran said, “that’s how he’s trained.”
At 4:55 a.m., Burt received notice from university police that a request for assistance had been made. Burt alerted his immediate superior Tom Burkhardt to the situation. Shortly thereafter, Burkhardt, the university vice president for finance and administration, called Curran to inform him of the escalating situation.
While the chief, vice president and president headed toward campus, police from 12 jurisdictions gathered at the intersection of Lawnview and Kiefaber. They donned riot helmets, grabbed batons and organized an approach. Instead of focusing on arrests, their main goal would be to disperse the crowd and force everyone inside the houses.
By 5:30 a.m., the police had formed a skirmish line and began advancing eastward down the 400 block of Kiefaber, crunching glass beneath their boots while forcing revelers into the houses and alleyways along the way.
There was not, however, any tear gas used, as had widely been reported on social media. Sometime during the morning, a device in the road was seen emitting smoke, but police have not yet identified the nature of the device, and it is believed the device was placed by revelers.
Curran left his house and headed toward the scene, where he arrived by 5:40 a.m. Reports are unclear about whether Curran was asked by police not to enter the scene, but shortly after arriving at the intersection where police had gathered, the university president began walking down the 400 block of Kiefaber.
As Curran passed through the alleyway between Kiefaber and Lowes, he spoke with students who were surprised to see the university’s president at the scene. He encouraged several students who were visibly intoxicated to go back to their homes for the night. When Curran arrived at Lowes, he paused briefly for a photograph with around 15 revelers who had gathered near a front porch.
Just after Curran rounded the corner of the house back to the alleyway, officers approached the front porch in riot gear and forced the gathered revelers into the house.
Burt said dispersing the gatherings was the main objective in combatting the mob mentality of the group. Regarding the crowd on Kiefaber, he said, “had that crowd not been dissipated quickly, we could be looking at our neighborhood burning, and I’m not exaggerating.”
“I think the actions were appropriate, I think they were necessary, and had we not taken them we would be looking at people with serious injuries, multiple arrests and some serious damage to our community, as well as students’ property.”
Back in the alleyway between Kiefaber and Lowes, the university president found himself surrounded in what he believed to be disproportionate police action. As Curran and a few students gathered to encourage two intoxicated girls to return home, several non-university police officers charged the group.
Curran recounted the event for Flyer News: “There were, around us, a number of students who were just talking … I didn’t think – I know – there was nothing going on there. And we were actually trying to talk to two young women asking them to go home because they were intoxicated.
“I heard no – we were standing there – no request to disperse. It was very quick, there was a crowd walking up the street, basically behind us, but I do not recall any requests for us to disperse, or any discussion that occurred.”
Officers quickly approached and pushed back students. An officer who was shorter than Curran approached the president and charged him with a riot shield. The president later recalled the moment for Flyer News, who had a reporter accompany Curran in the alleyway:
“I was upset, not so much that I was hit, it was the force of the hit of the person who was to my left, the young man to the left. I thought it was excessive. And that’s, as you witnessed, that’s when I got very angry.”
Curran began to tell the officer that he was trying to do his job as president. The president told the officers that they would discuss the incident later.
“So, my comment was, we’ll take care of this, we’ll discuss this later. And the thing was, there was no reason for an interaction. There was no destructive behavior going on in that group. In fact, the students who came up were also trying to say to these young women, ‘You’ve been drinking, go home, go into a house.’
“Now, in retrospect, I can see how the [officer] got very concerned,” Curran said. “But the fact is, it’s about how you approach people, and how you develop community.”
Curran, who has three degrees in sociology and has an academic and professional focus in criminology that includes working with police and the FBI, told Flyer News, “there’s a method of policing that is community-based, and what was happening was counter to what I had asked for.”
No university officers were in the front line with shields in the group that approached the president, but a university officer went around the line and pulled Curran out of the melee. When Curran returned to the intersection of Kiefaber and Lawnview, he met Burkhardt and Burt, who had arrived by then. Curran said he immediately talked to Burt and reiterated his request for community-based policing and concern over the incident.
“I’m proud to say that I didn’t see University of Dayton police officers doing that,” Curran said, referring to what he believed to be excessive behavior. “But again, it was very charged – I’m not pointing the finger; there was yelling and shouting and bottles had been thrown. But when you get down to it, the University of Dayton is about community, and the form of policing or social control has to be community-based …
“… As a sociologist, one who’s focused on criminology, you know, we don’t need this to resolve conflicts, and we certainly don’t need this in a Marianist community,” Curran said. “And I do think, you know, the UD police did a good job, there’s been tremendous progress – there’s more we have to do.”
Both Burt and Curran said the discussions about community-based policing had been going on between administration and the department for several years. The two men bring different perspectives to the table. Curran brings his academic experience, and Burt is a veteran Dayton police officer who had spent years as a leader on the city’s force.
“You never have overkill in an incident like that,” Burt told Flyer News. “We’re not here to try and make an equal fight … The perception by a public that doesn’t understand your objective and goal may perceive that as excessive, when, in this case, I would much rather have had 50 more officers than we needed …
“… [Curran] has a very different role than we do,” Burt said later on. “Our job is to go out there and enforce the rules and try to keep people safe. His is to represent the university in a different light and manage conflict like this in the best way that he’s able to try to maintain the integrity of the institution. So, their goals are going to be very different so there’s going to be some conflict there…
“Obviously, Dr. Curran is the president and he sets the standards and the expectations,” Burt said, “but we have to work within the guidelines of the laws and the mission of the university.”
Inside the College Park Center there’s a large room with a central table called the Emergency Operations Center, designed as a university headquarters for crisis management. Before heading to the Emergency Operations Center, Curran walked an intoxicated student across campus back to their residence.
Meanwhile, once the chief felt things in the neighborhood were under control, he went and opened up the room. He worked out an agreement with DPD to keep officers on hand, and with that arrangement secure, he got on the police radio and released the other agencies back to their jurisdictions.
At the Emergency Operations Center, university provost Joseph Saliba and Bill Fischer, vice president for student development, joined Curran, Burkhardt and Burt.
“I just literally cleaned up quickly and came out,” Fischer said. “That’s my job.”
They met with a lieutenant from the Dayton Police Department and Tim Riordan, the Dayton city manager.
Riordan found out about the situation from a text at around 6:30 a.m.
“I came out there around 7:30 a.m.,” Riordan said. “I wanted to see what the situation was. Wanted to coordinate with our police to make sure we had command structure in order and then wanted to meet with UD people to plan what we do for the rest of the weekend.”
It was around this time when Burt figured out why students were carrying 40s.
“I said, ‘I’ve never seen our students carry around 40-ouncers like this,’ and I was kind of puzzled why, and then, when I heard the ’40 at 4,’ I said, ‘Well, that makes perfect sense’ why they’d be carrying 40-ounce bottles,” Burt said.
“I’m only assuming that the majority of people who were out there being disorderly and out of control were drunk from the night before, they weren’t getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning and saying ‘I’m gonna go down and sip me a 40-ouncer and go throw it in the street.’ I think it’s the ones that are alcohol-charged and ready to rock-and-roll at 4:30 in the morning because they’ve been up partying all night.”
The group figured out a plan of action. They’d keep police at the intersections and challenge persons who tried to walk down the 400 blocks of Kiefaber or Lowes. Once that was secured, they’d clean up the Ghetto. They immediately sent troops of groundkeepers to clean up. The groundskeepers cleaned up in under two hours, no small feat considering the widespread glass that filled the street.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Burt and Fischer released an email statement to students via Teri Rizvi, associate vice president for university communication. The email informed students about the situation, and further stipulated that “large non-[university] sponsored gatherings will not be permitted today.”
In total, 11 vehicles, including a police cruiser, were damaged during the incident. Following the disturbance, an Ohio Liquor Control agent arrested one male, who is not a student at the university, for underage drinking and public intoxication. The university also said five UD students received citations for not complying with police officers during the incident.
Yet, despite the disturbance, St. Patrick’s Day citations were down for the second year in a row, and fewer students received disciplinary citations than last year.
Over the course of the weekend, public safety officers cited 45 students through the university student conduct system. The university said 14 of those students also received court citations. Twenty-four non-university students were charged through the courts, and seven of the 24 were physically arrested. In total, police broke up 38 parties throughout the course of the day.
Last year, 52 people were charged with citations and 143 received warnings during the weekend, according to the Flyer News archives. Thirty-three of the 52 individuals charged last year were non-UD students, and 10 of the 19 students were cited with criminal actions, five through the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control.
As administrators assess the situation, another divide appears: how to handle next year’s St. Patrick’s Day. Fischer said all options – including shifting the academic calendar to exclude the holiday – are on the table. Burt tended to agree with that idea.
“I realize I don’t have control over the academic calendar,” Burt said. He also acknowledged that leaving the calendar as it is “provides the opportunity for this to happen again.”
He said the mentality of St. Patrick’s Day behavior now exists, thanks to websites like BroBible, which have ranked the University of Dayton as the No. 1 school for St. Patrick’s Day parties.
“I think also you get this mindset of ‘We’re No. 1, we need to make sure everybody knows we’re No. 1, and we’re going to maintain that No. 1 by doing something over the top this year.’ And unfortunately the over the top this year got to this level.”
Riordan is in favor of shifting the date, too.
“I graduated from UD in 1968,” he said, “and there were big time St. Patrick’s Day things then. Kids not exactly acting appropriately. So, I like it when they close down for spring break for St. Patrick’s Day.”
Curran, however, for his part, questions the wisdom of changing the calendar.
“I’m personally one who doesn’t think one event should dictate the academic calendar,” Curran told Flyer News.
At least one person, however, looked to the lessons learned from the weekend.
“And, perhaps one of the things that will grow out of this is our student population taking a greater role in controlling the situation,” Groesbeck said. “Being a proactive part of being sure that whatever does occur is managed from their end.”
After all, Burt points out, “When the smoke clears and everyone leaves, UD students are standing there holding the bag.”
Editor-in-chief Chris Moorman contributed reporting.