BOULDER, Colo. — A large gathering that turned into a melee near the University of Colorado Boulder on Saturday evening left multiple students bleeding and tear-gassed, at least two vehicles damaged and three SWAT officers injured, the police said.
The officers were hurt as they tried to disperse the crowd in the University Hill neighborhood of Boulder. The officers were hit with bricks and rocks and sustained minor injuries, the Boulder Police Department said on Twitter, and the windshield of an armored car deployed to the scene was shattered.
Over 100 people started running toward the officers before tear gas was used, the city’s police chief, Maris Herold, said at a news conference on Sunday. The crowd was at its largest at about 7 p.m., involving as many as 800 people, the chief said.
Most of the attendees were not taking precautions against the coronavirus like social distancing or wearing masks. Infectious disease experts have raised concerns that as the weather warms and local restrictions ease, social gatherings and spring break trips could cause a surge in coronavirus cases.
The Boulder County district attorney, Michael T. Dougherty, said the episode was a “tremendous setback” in the city’s efforts to fight the pandemic. Jeff Zayach, the county’s public health director, called the lack of mask-wearing and social distancing “shocking and disturbing.”
Colorado recently reached 6,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to a New York Times database.
The university said it was “aware of a large party on University Hill on Saturday evening and allegations of violence toward police officers responding to the scene.”
“We condemn this conduct,” it said, adding that “it is unacceptable and irresponsible particularly in light of the volume of training, communication and enforcement” about coronavirus restrictions.
The neighborhood, known as the Hill, is home to bars and many of the university’s fraternity and sorority houses. Anna Haynes, the editor in chief of the CU Independent, a student-run news site, wrote in The New York Times last year, “It’s the place you go to party, pandemic or not.”
Students who live in the neighborhood said people were having small gatherings in their yards on Saturday to enjoy a warm day after having been cooped up by the cold weather and coronavirus restrictions.
But as videos of the scene were posted on social media, people who didn’t live there or were unaffiliated with the university, such as high school students, began gathering in the street.
Though it was clear not every person was a student at the university, “we’re not going to try to shift the blame,” Pat O’Rourke, the university’s chief operating officer, said.
Brynn Umansky, a junior at the university who lives in the University Hill neighborhood, said that “as soon as it turned dark, it turned into a whole mob and it literally kept growing over the night until the cops came.”
“It was really scary and awful and the police didn’t do anything for hours,” she said. “It was a lot, especially living right here and seeing all of it and not being able to do anything about it.”
Ms. Umansky and her roommates watched the scene unfold from their balcony as people climbed onto their roof and tried to enter. Kendall St. Claire, a junior who lives with Ms. Umansky, said that attendees hurled bottles and rocks at police cars, injuring people in the process.
Those injured “were just coming into our house and we couldn’t stop them,” Ms. St. Claire said, adding that most of them were severely intoxicated. “At least three people I had seen had gashes in the middle of their forehead,” she said.
Isabella Sackheim was at Ms. Umanksy’s house when someone told her that her car, a silver Nissan Versa, had been rolled over.
“People were cheering,” Ms. Umansky said. “It was horrible. It was mob mentality, for sure.”
The police received calls shortly before 5 p.m. about “a large party” on the block, the city said. At 5:40 p.m. “the crowd swelled and individuals began pelting the officers with glass bottles,” according to the city, and at 5:48 p.m. the Boulder Police Department activated its SWAT unit. It wasn’t until 9 p.m. that the crowd began to disperse, the city said.
Ms. Sackheim said that the episode was “really disappointing,” but that she was encouraged by the university community’s efforts to help her. One of Ms. Sackheim’s friends set up a GoFundMe page, and someone posted her Venmo user name on social media, she said, raising $9,000 to replace her car.
At one point during the melee, people danced on an Amazon delivery truck, students said. A summons was issued to one of the people on the truck, the police chief said.
No arrests were made on Saturday, though some citations for violations of public health orders were issued earlier in the day, Chief Herold said. The department is reviewing body camera footage as well as photos and videos posted on social media to identify those involved, she said.
Frida Carlson, a senior, said she hoped the university would increase coronavirus testing and consider canceling in-person classes for two to three weeks over fears that the gathering might have been a superspreader event.
Mr. O’Rourke said that in-person classes would continue this week but that students could raise concerns with their professors. City and university officials have urged anyone at the gathering to quarantine for 10 days and to seek virus testing. Mr. O’Rourke said that students would not be identified or penalized for seeking testing.
“I’m sure there will be an outbreak,” Ms. Umanksy said.