LEWISTON — An unseasonably hot night, no dormitory air conditioning and end-of-the-year excitement created the conditions for a Wednesday morning clash between Bates College students and police.
Students insist police made matters worse by overreacting to a rowdy but happy late-night gathering.
"I actually laughed at the fact that they labeled this a riot," said Bates freshman Ethan Brooks-McDonald. "It did get kind of rowdy, but everyone was cheerful. It was pretty tame. Nowhere near what I'd call a riot."
Brooks-McDonald was one of the more than 200 students gathered on the street in front of Smith Hall on Wednesday morning in a celebration that ended when state, county and four local police departments responded. They arrested 11 students and charged them with disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and refusing to submit to arrest.
Students said it didn't have to turn out like that.
Tuesday night they were celebrating "Throwback Night," an annual celebration in which seniors visit their first-year dorms one last time, usually providing beer to the freshmen living there.
The dorm doesn't have air conditioning and the rooms were hot and stifling in the early morning. Students said the celebration moved outdoors.
"I understand police not wanting 200 to 300 people just standing around drinking," Brooks-McDonald said. "But it was unbearably hot inside and the students were peaceful."
Freshman Eric Devaux, a Smith Hall resident, agreed that the heat led the students outside. Devaux said he was outside but went back into the dorm when police arrived. He disputed reports that the crowd was unruly and wouldn't make room for an ambulance that had arrived to treat a Bates student.
"Nobody was being belligerent," Devaux said. "They got out of the way for that ambulance. But there were a lot of people, and I don't think security felt like they could handle it and that's when things changed."
Freshman Dan Lowenstein said police arrived and began telling students to disperse, arresting students when they didn't move quickly enough.
Students claim police used night sticks and Mace or pepper spray. Sophomore Ronnie Ead said he watched police tackle and handcuff a student in front of the Dana Chemistry Building, 200 feet from Smith Hall.
"He made a gesture like, 'What are you doing here?' and the police told him to move along," Ead said. "When he turned to go, another one ran up and grabbed him and tried to push him to the ground."
Ead said students began chanting "F--- the police."
The incident was all students were talking about Wednesday, before, during and after classes. Student Joe Musso created a Facebook page, helped organize an afternoon rally in front of Hathorne Hall and initiated a petition drive.
More than 100 students attended the rally. Lauren Christianson said local police regularly overreact to Bates students, especially on campus.
"We think of the campus as our home, after all," she said. "We are just people, celebrating on our campus, so this feels like an invasion of our home."
Christianson said local police have targeted students, breaking up campus parties and harassing students walking at night.
"To some people, we're just walking money bags and they target us," she said.