Harrisonburg Block Party Near JMU Turns into Civil Disturbance

Police say a college block party in Harrisonburg turned into a civil disturbance.

In addition to their own officers, the Harrisonburg Police Department says close to 200 officers are working Saturday night, ranging from Virginia State Police, Staunton Police and Rockingham County Sheriff's deputies.

Authorities say they haven't seen a block party like this in a while.

About 8,000 people congregated in the Forest Hills and Port Republic area Saturday evening, and Harrisonburg Police say some fights started breaking out when they came to disperse the crowd.

Some of that violence was allegedly directed at officers.

"They started getting beer bottles thrown at them, different debris thrown at them so they backed out. Once they backed out we called in the civil disturbance unit," says Lt. Kurt Boshart with the Harrisonburg Police Department.

Boshart says many Harrisonburg residents live in the area, and the department needs to restore the chaotic area back to a peaceful setting.

"It's been declared an unlawful assembly, and once that occurs you have to leave the area, and if you fail to do so, that is a charge," says Boshart.

Police got on loud speakers to tell students to disperse or they would be arrested and charged.

"Make sure that those that are committing crimes are taken away, locked up, put in jail and we are going to make sure that this is a safe place for the community," says Boshart.

However, some students, like JMU sophomore Jon Whitman, say they didn't get that message.

"I didn't hear anything. The first thing I saw was the tear gas. I heard nothing. The people may have been loud in the crowd, but the first thing I saw was the tear gas, and that's what made me go inside because I couldn't stay out there," says Whitman.

With the majority of the troopers, deputies and officers being off of work, Boshart says overtime for this event adds up.

"All of this that you see tonight is all on the tax payers dollar. It's unfortunate that we have situations like this but we do need to restore order and that's what we're going to do," says Boshart.

Boshart says the preliminary numbers for arrests show about 30 to 35 people, but there could be more.

He expects a number of the arrests to be due to assaults on police officers, which does carry a felony charge.

State police from as far away as Richmond are being called to assist with crowd control.

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