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Students who were present during what Jonesboro police have called a riot at that city's The Grove apartment complex on election night Nov. 4 say the event was a peaceful celebration until cops arrived, and insist that accounts of rock and bottle throwing and an assault on an officer are false or overblown.
Meanwhile, an attorney for two of the eight black men arrested that night says the case could turn into a national embarrassment for Jonesboro if the city follows through with felony charges against the young men.
About 11:45 p.m. Nov. 4, after the presidential election was called in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, police were dispatched to The Grove apartments in response to several calls to 911, including one in which a male caller said there were “200 black people” screaming outside, and he feared for his life.
Though the students had been told they could continue their celebrations until 12:30 a.m. by an off-duty police officer working security at the apartments, on-duty officers soon arrived and began trying to disperse the crowd. According to an incident summary from the Jonesboro Police Department, the voices of the officers on the radio soon “change to that of desperation as their requests change to ‘get us some help up here.' ”
In response, all city patrol officers were dispatched to The Grove, including K-9 and SWAT units. Soon after, according to the same report, an officer's “emergency button” was triggered, and radio calls for help went out saying that objects were being thrown. A county-wide call for assistance was sent, and officers from the Craighead County sheriff's office, State Police, and the Brookland, Bay, Bono, Lake City and Arkansas State University campus police departments converged on the apartments.
Before the incident was through, police had arrested eight young men at the scene: Clifford Crisswell, Jeffery Boyd, Seneca Hart, Kevin Jones, Jonathon Burns, Kiano Prater, Leroy Trahan and Donte Jones. Seven of the men were charged with the felony of inciting a riot, and Burns was charged with failure to disperse and disorderly conduct. Jeffery Boyd was charged with second degree battery on an officer for what police reports say was a violent attack in which he pinned Jonesboro officer Jo Carter down on the ground and punched her repeatedly in the face, resulting in a broken nose, black eye and busted lip.
The Arkansas Times has spoken to several students who were there that night — including one of those arrested — and they offer accounts that differ from those of the police. Alexandra Ingram is a senior at ASU who was in the crowd that night. She said that until police arrived, the event was just like thousands of other celebrations that night across America – in this case, a television watch party in a local apartment that spilled out in front of Building 5 when news of Obama's victory was announced.
“We were all having fun,” Ingram said. “We were all dancing, hugging, taking pictures. It was nothing of a violent attitude toward anyone. We were hugging people we didn't even know. We were just celebrating.” Ingram said that at most there were 60 to 70 people in the crowd, and that they had checked with off-duty Jonesboro police officer William Brumfield, who was working security at the apartments that night, to make sure the celebration was okay. Photographs taken by students and aired on Jonesboro TV stations show Brumfield smiling, surrounded by the crowd at The Grove. Though Ingram said Brumfield treated the crowd cordially and respectfully, when other officers began arriving, it seemed as if the decision was taken out of Brumfield's hands. Ingram said the new officers on the scene approached the crowd very aggressively.
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