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Investigation begins into police pepper-spraying Utah haka dancers [Video]

December 30, 2011 |  6:00 am


After a Utah high school football team lost a game in October, about a dozen fans of Polynesian descent bent their knees, folded their arms and started a grunt-like chant. They were performing a traditional Maori war dance that New Zealand rugby fans -- and recently some U.S. high schools -- have adopted.

To two police officers, however, the opening of the haka dance looked like the start of a riot. They used batons and pepper spray to break up the group. A 1-minute, 17-second video of an officer wading into a cluster of dancers has racked up more than 1.8 million hits on YouTube. 

This week, county prosecutors announced they were opening an investigation into the incident, the Associated Press reported. They did so at the request of the local ACLU, which had chided the Roosevelt Police Department for clearing the officers in an internal investigation.

The Oct. 20 incident in Roosevelt –- population 8,000 –-  appeared to stem from a cultural chasm. The Polynesian fans had been cheering on a relative who was playing his final game at Union High School, the AP said. When the Cougars lost, as they had every game this season, the fans turned to the haka to cheer up their relative. The beginning of the dance somewhat resembled a choreographed stomp routine.

The officers were befuddled, and said they were concerned that the group was blocking an exit from the field. “I have never seen such an event, or even heard of such a thing,” Officer Luke Stradinger said in his report, according to the AP. Stradinger used pepper spray to break up the dancers -- and sprayed at least one child -- while Officer Wade Butterfield wielded a baton.

Afterward, Roosevelt police officials said they would offer more cultural training to their force.


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