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Police Helicopter Flying Low Ruined Tailgates

Update Thursday, October 4: Pennsylvania State Police released a second statement Thursday, reiterating that “there was no intent by the pilot or supervisors on the ground to disturb property” and that “safety is the top priority of the Pennsylvania State Police Aviation Unit.”

An internal review is being conducted by state police in addition to the Federal Aviation Administration’s investigation.

Below is the full statement.

The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) is aware of, and fully cooperating with, an FAA investigation into the incident involving a PSP helicopter in State College on September 29, 2018. Additionally, PSP is conducting an internal review of the incident. 

A helicopter from the PSP Aviation Section attempted to disperse a large, unruly crowd via loudspeaker after orders from troopers on the ground and the Tactical Mounted Section were ignored. There was no intent by the pilot or supervisors on the ground to disturb property, and the department regrets any damage caused as a result. 

Safety is the top priority of the Pennsylvania State Police Aviation Unit, which flew 1,841 missions in service to the commonwealth in 2017. The fleet is comprised of nine helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft.

Update Monday, October 1, 2:32 p.m.: The Pennsylvania State Police released a statement about the helicopter incident at the senior tailgate Saturday.

According to the statement, State Police was called in “to issue commands to disperse via loudspeaker” after ground efforts had failed. When personnel notice the helicopter was “low enough to disturb items on the ground,” it was pulled up to a higher altitude. The statement said interventions like this are routine for the Tactical Mounted Unit and the Aviation Section when there are large crowds.

However, Penn State Police and Public safety say these types of interventions are rare at the university.

Two State Police horses were assaulted and one trooper was injured during the ground intervention.

Below is the full statement from State Police.

The Pennsylvania State Police was called to assist in response to a large-scale party that was getting out of hand, creating a risk to persons and property. First, the tailgaters ignored commands to disperse from law enforcement on the ground.
 
Then PSP deployed personnel, including the Pennsylvania State Police Tactical Mounted Unit. The crowd began to turn unruly and two PSP horses were assaulted and a trooper was injured. Ground units pulled back in an effort to deescalate the situation. 
 
Following this incident, the Pennsylvania State Police Aviation Unit was called to assist. A helicopter was utilized to issue commands to disperse via loudspeaker. When personnel on scene noticed the helicopter was low enough to disturb items on the ground, the helicopter pulled up to a higher altitude.
 
The PSP Tactical Mounted Unit and the Aviation Section routinely provide assistance at events like this when large crowds are expected.

Then PSP deployed personnel, including the Pennsylvania State Police Tactical Mounted Unit. The crowd began to turn unruly and two PSP horses were assaulted and a trooper was injured. Ground units pulled back in an effort to deescalate the situation. 

Following this incident, the Pennsylvania State Police Aviation Unit was called to assist. A helicopter was utilized to issue commands to disperse via loudspeaker. When personnel on scene noticed the helicopter was low enough to disturb items on the ground, the helicopter pulled up to a higher altitude.

The PSP Tactical Mounted Unit and the Aviation Section routinely provide assistance at events like this when large crowds are expected.

Update Monday, October 1, 1:25 p.m.: A representative from the Flight Standards District Office in Harrisburg said the incident at the senior tailgate is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Update Monday, October 1, 11:25 a.m.: Penn State Police issued a statement about officers’ response to the senior tailgates on Saturday, citing the group’s “numerous law violations” and refusal “to disperse following verbal commands.” The statement clarified the helicopter was used “as another tool to compel the group to disperse and curb dangerous and unruly behavior.” At least one officer was injured during the process.

Here is the full statement:

“We understand concerns have been raised regarding police activity during tailgate celebrations in one lot, in advance of the Penn State vs. Ohio State game on Saturday (Sept. 29). University Police wishes to reassure fans that officers were responding to the circumstances on the ground, which involved numerous law violations, including serious threats to officer safety within a disorderly crowd. Unruly individuals refused to disperse following verbal commands and at least one officer suffered injuries. It is rare to resort to these expanded interventions; however, when all other warnings from the mounted police unit and officers on the ground were ignored, a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter was deployed as another tool to compel the group to disperse and curb dangerous and unruly behavior. Following the use of the helicopter, the dangerous behaviors dissipated.”

Original story: A police helicopter flying close to the ground created a disturbance at pre-White Out tailgates Saturday by slinging tents, grills, and other debris through the air in section 23 of the Yellow lot.

A video shows the helicopter flying reportedly as low as 30 feet from the ground at the tailgate lot, which is located at the corner section of Orchard Road and Park Ave.

Penn State parent and tailgater Scott Olson said that early Saturday morning, a police officer asked the fraternity tailgating next to his group to move one space over. After the fraternity’s members refused to move, the officer told Olson and his group that the fraternity would be on watch for the day.

We’ve been told that the tailgate wasn’t just one fraternity, like Olson described, but a senior tailgate with members of the Greek community and that is known to be rowdy. 

Olson said police didn’t check in all day, until some time between 3:30 and 4 p.m. when eight officers on horseback and 15-20 other officers showed up to disperse the frat’s tailgate. Shortly after, the helicopter flew in and made a sharp cut in Olson’s aisle, picking up tents and other debris. 

“There was no fighting or big disruption. No one was doing anything crazy or outlandish. We didn’t have any issue with them all day,” said Olson, who reported a scratch to his Mercedes-Benz truck thanks to a flying tent and said a girl at his tailgate was cut on the face from debris. He plans to file a police report this week.

“Can you imagine if a helicopter sent debris that hit a horse and it got spooked and started trampling the kids? This could’ve been a tragedy. If that helicopter had any type of accident, you would’ve had people shredded everywhere and cars on fire. It’s so fortunate that there wasn’t a major tragedy yesterday.”

We contacted State College Police, University Police, and State Police for this story. State College Police directed us to University Police, who said dispatchers on duty don’t have any knowledge of the situation. We left a message with State Police that hasn’t yet been returned.

We’ll update this story as more information becomes available.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci is Onward State’s Social Media Manager, a preferred walk-on honors student, and a junior majoring in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. Feel free to follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter and email him at [email protected] to hear the story or if you’re bored and want to chat.

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