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FAA will investigate use of police helicopter to disperse rowdy tailgaters at Penn State game

STATE COLLEGE — The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the Pennsylvania State Police’s use of a helicopter to break up a tailgate party in the parking lots outside Beaver Stadium prior to Saturday’s football game between Penn State and Ohio State, the agency confirmed Thursday.

The incident occurred in Yellow Lot 23, where a large group of upperclassmen and members of Penn State’s Greek community had gathered for a pre-game party.

University Police said that officers responding to reports of numerous law violations were ignored, and the tailgaters refused to comply with orders to disperse. At least one mounted police officer was injured when he tried to subdue a man who assaulted his police horse, State Police told the Centre Daily Times.

That’s when the police helicopter was called in to hover over the scene.

Video taken on the ground showed debris blowing wildly as people ran for cover. One witness said a female companion was injured and his car was damaged by flying debris.

Penn State Police initially defended the use of the helicopter in a statement Monday.

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.

But later in the week, Penn State Police and Public Safety said the use of helicopters to disperse crowds has been discontinued, pending an assessment of the practice, according to the Centre Daily Times.

“In the aftermath of the deployment of game day safety and security measures, the decision has been made to discontinue use of a helicopter to make crowd announcements at football games pending an assessment. We will continue to confer with state police, and evaluate steps taken, which is our normal practice.”