Looking Through the Tear Gas at Deltopia 2014


Giuseppe Ricapito
Isla Vista Beat Reporter
Photos by Lorenzo Basilio, Staff Photographer

The daytime bacchanal of Deltopia, held on Saturday, April 5, drew an estimated 15,000 students to the streets of Isla Vista but erupted into full-scale civil unrest by nightfall. With 130 total arrests, 190 citations issued, and 50 people transported to hospitals throughout the day (but no reported deaths), the events of Deltopia 2014 have spurred a national dialogue on the culture and character of Isla Vista.

At about 11 p.m. Saturday night, as the fervor of the student riot was reaching its peak, a few individuals ventured into the no man’s land between the battalion of officers and the seething students. One unidentified youth, his face almost completely covered in the mist of tear gas and billowing smoke, stood motionless facing the officers, recalling the iconic, passive resistance of Tiananmen Square. But there were no tanks to be seen moving around the lone figure. The law enforcement officers, closing rank and forming a tight line along Del Playa, had only riot control weapons as a response.

Certain individuals—undeterred by the threat of violence—had been attempting to intervene in the clash throughout the night. Sasha Ramsay, a Cal State Long Beach first-year business marketing major, stood alone in the street dressed in a University of California, Santa Barbara pullover, appealing for a cooling of vitriol between both factions. Eventually restrained and removed by friends, she languished at the top edge of the crowd, under the street sign at the corner of Del Playa Drive and Camino Pescadero.

Visibly shaken by the continual crackling of rubber bullets peppering the wooden rail fence behind her, she explained why she ventured out.

“Cause this isn’t right,” Ramsay said. “I don’t understand why people are fighting.”

Though the riot came as a surprise to many, the officers had been previously prepared for it as a contingency. An informational “Know Your Rights” discussion about Deltopia with Sheriff Mark Signa, held on Tuesday, April 1, foreshadowed the incidence of civil unrest.

“If it got to the point where Deltopia was totally out of control with a riot, then all the officers would pull out and then they would start to do the skirmish lines,” Signa said. “We would have to clear the streets. But that’s extreme–extreme.”

But long before the tumultuous civil unrest, this year’s Deltopia began just like its predecessors—copious amounts of alcohol and thousands of students flooding the streets. The daytime was marked by warm weather, and even without the rumbling beat of DJs lining Del Playa, there was the unmistakable presence of unbridled enthusiasm. The motley crowd of UCSB students, SBCC students, and out of town guests was decked out in beach gear—bikinis, board shorts, and even some celebratory costumes. There was little doubt that that all involved had seriously committed to a day of partying.

However, this year’s Deltopia had not developed without some measure of controversy. According to a preliminary statistical news release, 130 law enforcement personnel were assigned to Deltopia—an increase from last year—to match rising initial estimates (20,000-25,000) people) of potential attendees. Sheriff Signa explained that the towering video cameras, installed on Del Playa and the UC campus, were a result of the recent sexual assaults and stabbings that had occurred in Isla Vista.

“There’s increased concern about what’s going on Del Playa,” Signa said. “The goal [of the cameras] was to put them up for Deltopia and see if they’re an effective tool or not.”

The camera footage—presumably the most complete recording of the riot—will undoubtedly play an essential role in an ongoing investigation of Deltopia criminal activity.

In addition, the application of Santa Barbara County’s Outdoor Festival Ordinance 6-70 was a concern for many residents in the days leading up to the event. Defining a festival as a musical gathering which draws more than 500 people within earshot, Signa explained that officers had the option of confiscating equipment or charging with a misdemeanor any individual that violated the regulation. The festival ordinance was fully enforced throughout the day, resulting in broken-up house parties with attendees vacated onto the streets.

“We don’t have final data, but preliminary information indicates that at least 60 percent of the arrests and citations issued were to individuals from out of the area,” said SB Sheriff Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover.

Though information is still being compiled and analyzed, the preliminary statistical news release indicates that 62 people arrested or cited claimed “a school affiliation”; “16 said they were from UCSB, 10 from Santa Barbara City College and 36 said they attended school outside of Santa Barbara County.” Sixty-four arrests were made for drunkenness in public, and “of the citations, 100 were for minor in possession and 68 for open container.” Eleven citations were also issued for violations of the County Festival Ordinance, and two for overcrowded balconies.

UCSB students also received emergency alert notifications on Saturday concerning two episodes of assault with a deadly weapon—one involving a knife, and another cited as “bottle and feet.”

“Two people were transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and the event is under investigation,” Hoover said.

Hoover also noted that an armed robbery occurred outside a liquor store.

“A victim was approached upon leaving the liquor store by a suspect who demanded the individual’s property and brandished what appeared to be a handgun,” Hoover said. “Witnesses saw what was happening and yelled for help. The suspect ran off, and was apprehended and arrested. No firearm was located.”

The festivity of the day had, by nightfall, erupted into mayhem, sparking a chain reaction of events that led into what the Sherriff’s news release described as “a major disturbance, emergency situation.” According to the preliminary statistical news release compiled by Hoover, at least 17 arrests came from the ensuing riot. Those arrested during the civil unrest were charged with “participating in an unlawful assembly and refusing to disperse, both misdemeanors.”

At around 9:30 p.m., a UCSB police officer “received a significant head injury” in the 6700 block of Del Playa after being struck with a “backpack that contained large bottles of alcohol” by 17-year-old Desmond Louis Edwards from Los Angeles. Edwards is being prosecuted “as an adult on charges of assaulting and resisting a police officer and numerous additional charges.”

During the course of the arrest, a gathering crowd surrounded the officers, and some threw “rocks, bricks and bottles” at law enforcement personnel. Officers soon declared “an unlawful assembly,” ordered students to vacate the area by choice or force, and shut down Del Playa to foot and vehicle traffic. Though Hoover indicated that it took time for officers to effectively clear the streets, many students who lived on Del Playa in the riot zone were blocked from returning to their homes.

Hoover reinforced that, throughout the entirety of Deltopia and the riot, the primary concern of law enforcement was the protection of student safety and local property.

“The suggestion that the police or the Sheriff’s Office caused this to happen…it’s ludicrous,” she said.

There were more isolated incidents reported throughout Isla Vista on Camino Del Sur and Sabado Tarde, but by 11 p.m., a crowd of many hundreds had taken full occupation of the street near the corner of Del Playa and Camino Pescadero. Officers from Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties were summoned for assistance at the site of the civil unrest, bringing the total police presence to almost 190 individuals, according to the preliminary statistical news release. A small number of youths continued to pelt officers with objects—glass bottles and aluminum cans were the most frequently used—while a few rocks were also thrown.

Under the flashing white beam of a helicopter illuminating the crowd from overhead, the crowd conducted chants of “USA,” the Gaucho mantra of “Ole, Ole,” and “Fuck the Police.” At the riotous climax of the scene, incompatible appeals resonated through the air—some students were rebelliously urging for an all-out charge on the officers, while others pleaded for the students to disperse.

A group of rioters charged a MarBorg dumpster through the crowd, knocking a girl to the floor and nearly trampling her under the weight of the unit. After the girl was safely removed from the scene, the individuals were able to advance slowly on the officers using the dumpster as a barricade.

Law enforcement personal responded with repeated barrages of tear gas, flash bombs and rubber bullets, and as the hours passed, they slowly advanced up Camino Pescadero. The tear gas seemed to be the most effective tool in their arsenal of crowd dispersal: as the canisters hit the concrete and the air filled with fog, most of the crowd covered their faces and stampeded in retreat. Students afflicted by the chemical agent could be seen choking and wheezing, tears and mucus streaming down their faces. A small number of the powerfully affected vomited into the road and behind parked cars.

The rubber bullets often ricocheted off vehicles, trees, and the buildings lining Camino Pescadero. Though the officers seemed to focus shots of rubber pellets and foam-tipped projectiles on groups of rioters advancing toward their line of control, bystanders in the crowd were caught in the crossfire. Those hit often winced or yelled out painfully when struck, and some retreated to the outskirts of the crowd to nurture bloody wounds.

Ismael Barajas, a third-year psychology major at UCSB, indicated a welt on his body the size of a half-dollar.

“I was just here watching and I got hit,” he said. “I wasn’t throwing anything. A lot of people weren’t throwing anything. But a lot of people were getting shot.”

But as the riot control measures continued from the officers, some students were whipped into a destructive frenzy—the streets were littered with broken glass, stop signs were uprooted, a fence was torn down, parked vehicles bore the remains of broken windows, and even police vehicles were damaged.

The character of the student crowd remained diverse, however; while some actively engaged the officers with airborne objects, some stood silently in passive resistance. Others laughed and chanted in solidarity with the multitude, almost joyous in the thrill of the experience.

As the hours passed, some students fled the scene, while others remained steadfast in opposition. But the student occupation seemed to lack a complete, overarching continuity, leading many to question the behavior of both students and officers involved in the incident.

“How do you expect people to be safe in their own community?” said Hannah Bartlebagh, a third-year UCSB political science and psychology double major. “I hope the cops and the student body can have a better dialogue, because I’m concerned that most students had no say in what happened here.”

Though the rioters attempted to hold their ground, the streets began to slowly cede to officers unwilling to leave the scene until the entire crowd had dispersed. By almost 1 a.m., law enforcement personnel had advanced to Sabado Tarde, pushing the remaining students farther down Camino Pescadero.

By 1:30 a.m., the civil unrest had dwindled to broken groups of students, positioned along the sidewalks or crouched behind parked cars. A police truck with four armed officers mounted in back flanked the remaining students from Camino Pescadero and Pasado Road, receiving two thrown bottles from unknown individuals as a response. While still in motion, the officers deployed tear gas and fired on the subjects before quickly swerving out of sight down Trigo Road.

This final flurry of action was the last climactic moment of the civil unrest, leaving the streets with only a few remaining, meandering students. Over the course of the event, five additional officers were injured.

“One was hit in the face with a brick, and two others were hit in the hand with bottles,” the Sheriff’s Office news release said. “Approximately 26 people were transported to area hospitals.”

Once the smoke cleared on the night, social media outlets were flooded with students expressing discontent with the behavior of the rioters, the role of out of town visitors, and the tactics employed by law enforcement officials. The dialogue on the Deltopia Civil Unrest has become even more expansive after receiving national coverage; an Associated Press story made the rounds on news sites from Yahoo News to the Huffington Post, and the story has also been addressed by publications such as the Los Angeles Times and international media.

But a local discussion on the causes of the civil unrest, potential options for future Deltopias, and consequences for Isla Vista are still in the early stages of development.

“This riot was our wake up call,” said an Associated Students email sent out Sunday, credited to President Jonathon Abboud and Internal Vice President Kyley Scarlet. “We need to band together and extinguish the party image. Let’s stop protecting it using the excuse that the out of towners cause the problems in IV. Let’s take responsibility for this, that is the only way we can we fix IV.”

Hoover also indicated that an investigation is currently underway to review the circumstances of the riot and how law enforcement responded.

“The violence may be over but our work has just begun,” Hoover said. “The Sheriff’s Office is busy going over paperwork, going over video, investigating…and trying to recover from the emotions of what happened.”

Hoover said they are looking at video in order to identify more clearly what happened and who was actively involved.

“We intend to seek prosecution against those who were throwing bottles, bricks, and rocks at law enforcement and were responsible for such criminal activity as vandalism,” she said. “We are asking the public to help us with video from the riot.”

On Sunday, April 6, at the Coffee Collaborative in Isla Vista, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young addressed the riot and took questions from local residents. Other UCSB administrators, including Associate Dean of Student Life and Activities Katya Armistead, and Associate Dean and Lecturer for First-Year and Graduate Students Don Lubach, joined him.

Young articulated his personal disappointment in the behavior of some of the rioters, but also professed hope for reparation.

“You have the ability to confer the character and quality of our community,” he said. “What I do care about is destruction and abuse of people and the environment all in the name of fun… This is not the Isla Vista I remember.”

The Associated Students UCSB executives also issued another statement on Monday, April 7, calling for a Civil Grand Jury Investigation into Saturday’s events.

“The community at large, including the rest of Santa Barbara County, deserve to know,” it stated. “This is in no way motivated by malice toward any stakeholder or party. We simply think that the more information we have on this event the better equipped we will be able to prevent it from ever happening again.”

As community opinions coalesce and the police investigation deepens, more information will shed light on the causes and consequences of the Deltopia civil unrest. Until then, there is much to still be repaired—from the shattered remains of Isla Vista property damage, to the relationship between the student body and law enforcement officials.