Spring break melee fueled in part by social media, sheriff says

SANTA BARBARA -- Santa Barbara County’s sheriff said Monday that social media contributed to the unrest Saturday night at a spring break party near UC Santa Barbara that left more than 100 arrested and dozens hurt.

While partying has long been a problem off campus, Sheriff Bill Brown said social media helped draw people to Saturday’s event.

It was “really kind of a product of spontaneity and fueled by Facebook and social media,” Brown said.

“With the reputation of a big party in Isla Vista, instead of it being handed off to a few people, it goes viral and we get literally hundreds of thousands who may see the message and ultimately thousands who decide to come to Isla Vista.... The place is just not set up for it.”


“We’ve been dealing with this issue one way or another for the last 45 years. It’s been a situation where historically, there’s been problems and challenges in Isla Vista that don’t exist elsewhere in the country.”

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Doreen Farr said that officials have already toughened laws after other parties that got out of control but that the university community also needs to do more.

“It’s clear that unsponsored events just have to end,” she said. “When you have thousands of people congregate, up to 15,000, it’s just inviting chaos.”

More than 100 people were arrested Saturday night and dozens were hurt when police and party participants clashed.

“The problems have come as more and more people are coming from outside the area,” Farr added. “They have absolutely no connection to the community. They’re not guests, they have no respect or pride in the area and no respect for law enforcement. And that’s what we kind of saw, the tipping point here.”

In a statement issued after the “Deltopia” party, UCSB student association President Jonathan Abboud and Vice President Kyley Scarlet said locals -- many of them UC Santa Barbara students -- had no one to blame but themselves.

“It is time to stop the habit of pushing the blame onto figurative and literal out of towners and take ownership of Isla Vista’s future,” the leaders said in their message to the student body.

They continued: “We cannot allow this culture, that we perpetuate, to continue. The ‘wild party’ stereotype and image exists because we, the students, allow it to exist. The riot last night happened, because we encourage an image of IV that is not healthy.”

Isla Vista is only about half of a square mile but houses 23,000 residents. On weekends, the population can swell to 40,000, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

An estimated 15,000 people attended the event, which skidded into violence after 9:30 p.m., when sheriff’s deputies were breaking up a fight in the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive and trying to make an arrest. That’s when a deputy was hit in the head with a backpack full of big liquor bottles, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

The deputy’s head injury required 20 stitches, Hoover said.

As fellow deputies parted and ran through the crowd to get to the injured deputy, partygoers started throwing rocks, bricks and bottles, Hoover said.

An unlawful assembly was soon declared, authorities said. During the melee, street signs were ripped down, small fires were set and Sheriff’s Department vehicles were damaged, authorities said.

At least five deputies were injured, including one who was hit in the face with a brick.

Authorities said they used tear gas, pepper spray, flash-bang grenades and foam projectiles to control the crowd.

After several hours, authorities said, officers were able to disperse the crowd and restore order.

“The community is still trying to come to grips that people were throwing objects at our law enforcement who are there to protect them,” Hoover said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The violent turn also drew the ire of UCSB officials, who issued their own statement Sunday calling the riot “outrageous and extremely dangerous.”

“Any of our students found to have violated the law or university policies are subject to university sanctions,” UCSB said.

Though at least 100 people were arrested, authorities on Monday said more arrests could happen after footage from nearby surveillance cameras is reviewed.

Isla Vista is no stranger to violence and crime, but historically, locals have pointed their fingers at out-of-towners who flow into the tightly packed beach area for the party scene.

That, some students said, would have to change in the wake of Saturday’s events.

“We live here, we go to school here, we’re a great academic school and we do a lot of good things,” said Casey Hayes, 18, a freshman from Huntington Beach. “When things like this happen, it takes away from that and puts a bad light on the school.”

In their statement to the student body, Abboud and Scarlet said it would require a sea change in how Isla Vista residents view their role in protecting the image of their neighborhood, and the university.

“This riot was our wake up call. We need to band together and extinguish the party image,” they said. “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 fix IV.”


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