City recovers after…pumpkin festival riots

Posted at 10:26 PM, Oct 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-21 22:26:13-04

Keene, NH (Keene Sentinel) — City residents, officials and students at Keene State College are grappling with the damage in the days since hundreds of people overwhelmed streets and challenged police on the outskirts of Keene’s downtown during and after the Pumpkin Festival.

The visible effects of Saturday’s riots were minimal after an intense cleanup effort Sunday swept up most of the pumpkin debris and garbage that littered streets, sidewalks and yards in the neighborhoods surrounding the college.

Numerous injuries were reported throughout the day Saturday, including lacerations suffered by people who were hit by flying beer bottles. Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene spokeswoman Sandie Phipps said most of the people treated had either suffered cuts, orthopedic-type injuries or alcohol-related injuries.

She said 26 people were treated for injuries at the Keene hospital Saturday afternoon and evening, although she said the number could include cases not tied to the riots and parties.

All of those patients were discharged after being treated Saturday, she said.

City Manager John A. McLean said that aside from at least one flipped car, several broken car windshields and four or five lampposts pulled out of the ground on the Keene State campus, damage to city property had been minimal. Many street signs on Winchester Street were pulled out of the ground and vandalized by the crowds.

But damage to the reputation of the college and the city was on the minds of people across the city.

The city has announced a 4 p.m. news conference today to discuss the Pumpkin Festival.

Many believe that Saturday’s festival may have been its last.

“I don’t think we can turn it around any more,” City Councilor Randy L. Filiault said Sunday. “The Pumpkin Festival used to be a community event, now it’s become a Keene-sponsored event for people not from Keene,” he said.

City Manager John A. MacLean said city staff and councilors would be processing information about Saturday’s events and making a decision about whether to allow the festival to continue.

“Surely the City Council and the mayor are going to give this a lot of consideration,” MacLean said. “They’re the ones who would put money aside in the budget process, and I don’t think they’re going to wait to have that discussion.”

Throughout Saturday, crowds of people moving from street to street pushed Keene police and additional departments from across the state to their limits.
The parties had begun Friday night, and by Saturday morning police had responded to a number of complaints of illegally parked cars and property damage near Grove, Foster and Blake Streets.

On Saturday at about 1:15 p.m., a large party had formed in the street on Winchester Court. Police reported people jumping off roofs, throwing bottles at officers and blocking the street. A special emergency response team, State Police and officers from a number of other agencies responded to the party.

By 4:45 p.m., fights and disturbances began to break out on Davis Street, Norway Avenue, Wilcox Terrace and Winchester Street, and police continued to respond to riots and individual disturbances in those areas well into the evening.

At about 7:30 p.m., police arrested three people — Christopher A. Morace, 26, of Jaffrey; Michael C. Dunn, 23, of Lebanon, Conn.; and Jake W. Surprenant, 19, of Mapleville, R.I. — on charges of disorderly conduct on Blake Street.

Police continued to receive calls about disturbances, people tipping cars, noise violations and fights throughout Saturday evening and into the early hours of Sunday morning. They arrested several more people on alcohol-related charges and charges of disorderly conduct.
Several callers reported people attempting to enter homes and buildings illegally, including Westwood Care and Rehabilitation Center nursing home on Main Street.

Mike Johnson, an administrator at Westwood, said several people tried to enter the building at about 11 p.m., but the building was locked. They had left by the time police arrived, Johnson said.

“Our residents were not disturbed as a result of the incident,” he said.

Filiault had one word to describe his reaction to the chaos: “disgust.”

“What other words can you use?” he asked. Filiault said he would likely vote against permits allowing Let It Shine Inc., which has run the festival for the past four years, to bring it back to Keene.

“I guess if they could guarantee to me that this kind of violence wouldn’t happen again next year … then I’d say, ‘OK, let’s consider it,’ ” he said. “But I don’t think we can go back there; I think we’ve crossed a line that we can’t return from.”

John F. Hayes, a Let It Shine board member, declined to comment on the future of the festival this morning.

After coming back to the city to meet with Keene Police Chief Kenneth J. Meola and City Manager MacLean Sunday afternoon, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she was “horrified and outraged” at Saturday night’s events.

Hassan said state officials are offering assistance to Keene and that Saturday’s events are under investigation by State Police. She was at the Pumpkin Festival Saturday as part of a scheduled campaign stop.

She praised the local and state police response to the riots, which were largely contained to the streets around the college campus.

“It is always a difficult balance, when you have this kind of riot, to contain it without escalating things,” she said. “We had a wonderful pumpkin festival going on right in downtown Keene … and our police contained this disturbance … and kept those families and young people safe.”

Hassan said some officers suffered minor injuries on Saturday.

She said the violence and property damage was perpetrated both by Keene State students and by out-of-town visitors.

“They really marred what has been a great tradition in Keene for 24 years,” she said, referring to the festival, which started in 1990.

Meola said no further information on the incident would be available from Keene police until sometime today.

Hassan said she has asked officials at Keene State and other N.H. colleges to help identify and discipline the perpetrators.

“We’ll obviously have to do an after-action review to find out what really went on here and how we can prevent it in the future,” she said.

“I’m grateful that there weren’t more serious injuries, but certainly this is not acceptable behavior.”

Hassan referenced a company that had announced its plans to organize and film a concert near the college.

She said landlords had prohibited their tenants from hosting a party, which was announced days in advance by the Massachusetts-based company Finna Rage.

Without a place to go, parties on Saturday emptied out into the streets, she said.

“That’s where I think you saw some of the difficulties,” she said.

“There were a lot of students at Keene State who weren’t involved, who were also horrified, who were out cleaning up this morning, and I want to applaud them for coming together to try to restore this wonderful community,” Hassan said Sunday.

Finna Rage has said on Twitter and in emails to media that it denies responsibility for the riots.

In a statement Sunday, Keene State President Anne E. Huot said college officials are reviewing images, video and social media posts they have collected from Saturday night and will identify and punish the individuals who participated in the riots.

“The most serious offenders will face interim suspension, followed by conduct action up to, and including, expulsion,” she said.