The Desert News reports that after a small town football game ended in the town of Roosevelt, Utah, police used pepper spray on fans and players to break up a post game celebration. The game was between Uintah High and Union High, two rival schools that are 30 miles apart from each other. After Union lost the game, a group of Tongan fans tried to help boost their team’s morale by performing the Haka, a traditional war chant that is performed at football and rugby games around the state.
The Tongan men and boys, numbering approximately 15, were performing the dance to what appeared to be the delight of their team’s players, coaches and family. The police felt the boys were blocking the exit from the field, and yelled at them to move. When coaches, players and family members tried telling the cops that it was okay, and to let them continue the Haka, the cops allegedly began spraying the crowd of performers, players and fans with pepper spray.
A Roosevelt resident who asked The Desert News to identify her only as Breana, said her husband was among of the performers who were sprayed. “It was continual spraying and spraying,” Breana told The Desert News, and said that not only was her husband sprayed, he was hit in the face with a police baton. She also reported that her 4-year-old son was also exposed to the spray.
Another person on the scene, Shawn Mitchell, told The Desert News that his young son and daughter, as well as his mother-in-law, were affected by the pepper spray. He called the response to the Haka an overreaction.
“I didn’t see anything that looked like there could be a threat,” he said.
The Roosevelt police declined a request for an interview Friday, but added that the incident is under investigation. They are looking to hear from anyone who saw what happened after the game.
The men and boys who performed the Haka are mostly from the Wasatch Front.
Union fan Jason Kelly told The Desert News that the way police treated the visitors was an embarrassment to the community of Roosevelt.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kelly said. “It was totally unprovoked.”