Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White apologized to a frustrated crowd of parents and children last night but said officers called to a fight at a roller rink late Saturday felt cornered and used pepper spray to disperse a “very unruly crowd.”
White spoke to more than 150 people at the Newburg Community Center at a tense and often chaotic meeting arranged by Barbara Shanklin, a Louisville Metro Council member.
White promised a full investigation into Saturday night’s incident at Robben’s Roost, at 5906 Six Mile Lane, where police used pepper spray on a crowd of 700 to 800 youths. White said police acted after some youths refused to leave and one officer was hit by a rock.
Early during last night’s hourlong meeting, White explained that officers who arrived at the rink decided that “it was critical to disperse the crowd” because the situation had gotten “out of hand.”
But parents and children at the meeting lashed out at White, disputing his version of events and asking pointed questions about how police responded and why such force was necessary.
“This would have never happened at Valley skating rink,” Andrea Hammond told White to large applause. “I felt like I was in slave days.”
Many families were upset that their children were forced to leave the rink near midnight without rides home and with nowhere else to go.
“Police are supposed to be protecting our children, not putting them into harm’s way at midnight,” Marina Gonzalez said.
Parents and children lined up near a microphone to ask White questions, with several telling the chief that officers shot pepper spray or pepper-ball guns, similar to paintball guns, directly at children.
Taunda Montgomery said both of her children were hit with pepper-balls and were treated at a hospital.
“It hurt,” said Chelsea Montgomery, Taunda Montgomery’s 12-year-old daughter who said she was hit in the leg. “I was scared.”
White grew frustrated at times, telling one woman that “we are going to have to agree to disagree.” But he stayed long after the meeting ended, continuing to answer questions.
At the beginning of the meeting, White acknowledged that the situation could have been avoided and encouraged those attending to file complaints to help in the internal investigation.
“It’s important to be transparent and open and to be held accountable,” White said. “If we’re wrong, I’ll be the first person to acknowledge we were wrong.”
But White said preliminary reports show that police who arrived in response to a fight at the rink saw an off-duty officer working security on his knees and someone attempting to grab his handgun.
That drew loud sighs and jeers from the crowd last night. White then said that an officer was hit with a rock and that youths ignored repeated orders to leave the property.
After the youths were forced from the rink property, White said, several nearby businesses, including a White Castle, Kroger and Wal-Mart, called for police to help disperse unruly crowds of young people.