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Uintah County attorney: No charges in Haka dance incident

VERNAL, Utah (ABC 4 News) - The Uintah County attorney announced that no charges will be filed in connection with a pepper spray incident at a high school football game in October.
VERNAL, Utah (ABC 4 News) - The Uintah County attorney announced that no charges will be filed in connection with a pepper spray incident at a high school football game in October.

Uintah County attorney Mark Thomas released a 21-page opinion on his reasons for not filing charges.

Thomas said, "It has been determined that there are no criminal charges that are appropriate in relation to the Officers or any of the participants performing the Haka."

Referring to a group of students who performed the dance popularized from a traditional Pacific Island tribal ritual, Thomas said, "I do not believe the performers “recklessly” caused a public inconvenience."

In a YouTube video, the students can be seen performing the dance in an exit adjacent to the Union High School football field.

As the group begins to shout the Maori chant used during the dance, a Roosevelt Police officer asks the group to "make a hole" several times.

The performers continued their dance, and the officer then proceeds to shoot pepper spray on members of the group. Another officer used a baton to strike one of the performers.

In his opinion, Thomas said:

"In this case, even though the Tongan group’s intention was to show honor to the Union High School football players, by sharing a cultural display, the location of the display stopped the exit of anyone on the field.

There had been no prior authorization to stop the movement of people off the field.

One could fairly argue that the obstruction would have been minor because it would have lasted a short time.

However, if the circumstances were changed from a football field to an abortion clinic, one can more clearly sense the value of freedom of movement."


Speaking of the officers use of pepper spray and the baton, Thomas writes:

"The intermediate weapons used by the officers were appropriate under the circumstances that the officers were aware of at the time they made the decision to deploy them. The officers did not use unlawful force. Therefore, the officers cannot be charged with criminal assault."

The incident caused an uproar among students in both schools and both communities, and deepened rift between Union and Uintah high schools, which happen to be rivals. The close rivalry game was won by Uintah, and the Haka group was supporting Union players.

The Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested the review by the Uintah County Attorney in December.

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