Dance party broken up by police in Utah, USA

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Monday, August 22, 2005

About 90 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies broke up what they said was a rave party on public and private property in the Diamond Fork area of Spanish Fork canyon, an hour outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday (5:30 Sunday UTC).

According to the county, the Sheriff's Office had been investigating similar parties since the beginning of the season. In a press release from the Sheriff's Office in Utah County, the department states that previous allegations of sexual abuse at other raves, as well as various firearm and theft violations, were reasons for the investigation. The release continues on to state that the proper permit was not obtained before the event started. The promoters deny this allegation and insist that all permits were legally obtained before the event.

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Armed with semi-automatic assault rifles, tasers, and tear gas, the police used dogs to sweep the crowd for narcotics. At least one helicopter was used in the operation, which served as a large spotlight for the ground teams. Prior to raiding the show, several unnamed police informants had reportedly told police that they had observed some "illegal activities".

The promoter says the party took place on private property, named Child's Ranch, with express permission from the owner. The property owner has apparently had at least one previous lawsuit with police over a similar event. Utah County requires a permit, bond and county commission approval for all gatherings with more than 250 people present and which can be expected to continue for 12 hours or more. DJ time slots and Pro Audio and Lighting contracts show that the party was scheduled to go on for no more than ten hours. According to a DJ at the event, "They presold 700 tickets and they expected up to 3,000 people total." He added that by the time police arrived "the crowd was about 1,500".

The police have publicly stated that only a permit from the health department was obtained, and that a Utah mass gathering permit was needed. The promoters have stated that they had the required permit, and have given a permit number (# 2005-11). Jay Stone, who handles mass gathering permits for the Utah County Health Department’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services, has confirmed that the permit was applied for and granted for the party. Officials also claim that the party had spilled over onto public land, and that more than 60 arrests were made in total - for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, underage drinking, drug possession and distribution, resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and one instance of a weapons offense, a pistol which was found in the home of the private property owners. Among the confiscated items and drugs found were cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, mushrooms, alcohol, and drug paraphernalia. Some of the drugs may include those confiscated from attendees by private security guards - who were also arrested.

Amateur video from the scene shows a number of SWAT police (Sheriff's press release places the figure at 90) screaming orders at the DJs to "Shut it down now!" and yelling at others to "get out now, or I'll kick your ass in jail." Armed police are also seen tackling two attendees, Alaisha Matagi and Paul Maka. It is unclear from the video footage whether these actions were provoked or not. However, those shown on the two-minute long footage that are being forced to the ground do not appear to be resisting arrest. Both Matagi and Maka are charged with failure to obey a police officer and resisting arrest - Maka is also charged with interfering with police. Sheriff Jim Tracy stated in an email that both of them were tackled and arrested after assaulting a deputy, however, neither of them are being charged with assaulting a police officer.

A first hand account from a DJ booked to play at the party stated that while police were arresting a man accused of possession, the suspect was beaten to the ground and continually "kicked in the ribs" by four armed "soldiers" dressed in camouflage. The item was not shown on the video footage. According to the account, nobody resisted the policemen, and the crowd was orderly, but tear gas was thrown at the partiers as they attempted to leave as instructed. The DJ also states that police were attempting to confiscate video equipment, but an amateur video has still surfaced on the internet (see sources below). The video appears to have been taken near the DJ stand before it was moved to show more of the action.

Several attendees felt they should have the right to attend an event where drugs may be present, so long as they don't personally use them. "While it may be true that some individuals choose to take drugs at said events like this, myself as well as many others choose to go for the music. Just like anything, you have bad apples, but you shouldn't cut down the tree," said one attendee. "Raves are not the only musical gatherings where drugs are used and distributed," said another.

Other event-goers felt that the use of force in the shutdown was excessive - numerous eyewitness accounts by concertgoers describe people being beaten, tasered, or attacked with dogs. An email from Sheriff Jim Tracy stated that dogs and tasers were present at the raid, however, he also states that the tasers were not used on anyone, and that no dogs were deployed against concertgoers.

One account from an attendee, identified as "Colby", states:

"I saw at least two people being beaten on the ground while barking, snarling dogs are held just a few feet from them. Weapons were being pointed at unarmed, peaceful civilians. A friend of mine was forced at gunpoint to put his hands on his head and turn around, because he asked if he could get his things from the tent."

Utah County sheriff's Sergeant Darren Gilbert also alleged that a 17-year-old girl was found overdosed on ecstasy, and was treated and released to her parents. According to an advertisement for the event, an attorney was present at the party. The local sheriff is scheduled to appear on Utah TV.

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