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Wednesday June 13, 2001

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Panel to review riot videos

By Cyndy Cole

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Student body president says panel not blaming just UA students for riots

Panelists reviewing police actions from the April 2 riots agreed that the crowd on North Fourth Avenue was under control until an influx of people from other areas made their way to the popular midtown district.

"They're starting to realize it was a broader problem, not just blaming college students," said Associated Students president Ray Quintero.

The panelists, consisting of an independent police auditor and representatives from neighborhood associations, KOLD-TV Channel 13, Tucson fire and police departments, and the UA met in a public forum at the Tucson Convention Center Thursday night.

The panel received six videotapes to review containing uncensored footage shot from inside the crowd and helicopters circling the area.

"On these tapes - when the bars close - you will see a few hundred people forced out on the streets," said assistant chief of police Robert M. Lehner.

"They're happy people (in the beginning), then the crowd swells like a beehive and the people seem to be coming from somewhere else."

The panel will finish reviewing the tapes by the end of the week to evaluate both crowd and police activity the night of the riots. The panel will then receive 10 additional tapes to look at.

"One thing I was happy to hear was that the college students were maybe 200 to 300 (people) out of the crowd," Quintero said.

Quintero was the only member of the panel who was on North Fourth Avenue the night of the riot.

Two UA students spoke during a brief call to the audience of about 15 people at the beginning of the meeting,.

"I explained to the police officers that I just wanted to get home and I got hit with rubber bullets," said fine arts senior Roger Verdugo, who lives near the Fourth Avenue area where the riots took place.

Verdugo said he had to go to a friend's house to wait until he could return home.

"I didn't feel safe to go home, even at 2 or 3 in the morning," Verdugo said.

Police responded to the North Fourth Avenue area - between East Ninth Street and East Speedway Boulevard - after riots broke out following the Arizona men's basketball team's loss to Duke in the NCAA championship game.

Lehner said he felt TPD could have been better prepared for what happened that night.

"There's no question that we didn't train as much for this as we should have, but the key units of our force were well-trained," Lehner said. "We actually were ready, much more ready, than other people would have been (but) it still wasn't enough."

Panelists also discussed wiring Fourth Avenue with a communication system following concerns that calls asking the crowd to disperse were not heard.

In the next step of the review process, the panelists will review the additional videotapes - filmed by news organizations and private citizens - before publishing a report in July.

The report will then go to a board of inquiry, a board appointed by the police chief consisting of Lehner, TPD assistant chief Kathleen Robinson and TPD Capt. George Stoner.

The board of inquiry will then choose whether to modify TPD policy, depending upon its findings. TPD chief Richard Miranda may "line-item veto" anything the board recommends, Lehner said.

The final board of inquiry report, which answers all citizens' individual complaints, should be released by Sept. 1, Lehner said.

The panel meeting is open to the public and will reconvene tomorrow night at 6 at the TCC.