“Once again the actions of a few bad actors have blackened the reputation of MSU with national and international headlines showing bonfires and Spartan fans kicking in car windows. I am sure that the vast majority of the student body finds this behavior to be heinous and unacceptable but unfortunately they have now been lumped in with the campus culture that includes violence and vandalism.”
So wrote Jessy Gregg to Michigan State University President Sam Stanley along with “MSU notables and East Lansing Representatives” about her take on what happened in East Lansing on Oct. 30, 2021, after MSU beat the University of Michigan in football. Mayor Pro Tem Gregg, serving at the time as Mayor of East Lansing, rode with East Lansing Police on that day and saw for herself what was happening around town.
“We need to push back on the toxic celebration culture that results in your students and fans drinking themselves into the hospital, flipping cars and throwing glass bottles at our police responders,” her letter continued.
But, according to Gregg, she has not received a response from President Stanley or anyone in his office. She has been in “regular contact” with MSU Director of Health Promotion Dennis Martell and MSU Community Liaison Suchitra Webster. Gregg also told ELi over email that, “Chief Lynch [of MSUPD] has contacted Chief Johnson [of ELPD] so that’s positive.”
On Tuesday, Ron Bacon was elected by Council as the new Mayor, with Gregg again elected to the role of Mayor Pro Tem (substitute Mayor). Asked by ELi for comment, Bacon told ELi, “I am in support of the statement and positions taken by Mayor Pro Tem Gregg.”
“We will continue to encourage and persuade the university to partner with us in demanding a cultural change particularly surrounding major events,” Bacon added. “MSU and East Lansing must both project and promote a united front against destructive, malicious and dangerous actions. This will be a high priority as we prioritize the safety of our community, visitors, and our entire public safety apparatus. “
The raucous events of the Oct. 30-31 weekend ultimately affected the entire region, as emergency services from surrounding areas swept in to provide aid. John Foren, spokesperson for Sparrow Hospital tells ELi that that “we had a surge of [emergency room] cases and a much higher number of alcohol-related cases that entire weekend.”
And it’s not as if the hospital emergency room was in the middle of a lull going into the game and Halloween. According to Tiffani Dusang, Director of the Sparrow Hospital Emergency Department, “The Sparrow Emergency Department remains very busy caring for extremely ill patients. Every room and hallway space is consistently full.”
Asked if ambulance runs to the hospital were impeded by the crowds, traffic, and widespread fires on Oct. 30, East Lansing Fire Chief Dawn Carson told ELi that her team of firefighter-paramedics “were able to handle all our calls without delay” in terms of medical response.
Responding to dozens of fire calls amounted to another problem altogether.
Rep. Slotkin joked about couch-burning, but ELPD doesn’t find what happened funny.
In advance of the big game on Oct. 30, Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin used the high-profile event in an attempt to raise money for her reelection campaign. She began a solicitation letter this way: “It’s that time of year again. The chill in the air, tailgating with loved ones, warming yourself by the…couch fire.”
Slotkin’s letter went on to say people shouldn’t really burn couches, but her joking around about it speaks to the degree to which some see the practice as sort of inevitable. Slotkin’s office has not responded to a recent ELi request for comment.
But ELPD is definitely pursuing charges according to Captain Chad Connelly. Police are currently poring over videos and photographs from the events to identify and question suspects.
The City of East Lansing and ELPD have also published multiple social media posts, asking the community for help identifying suspects.
Connelly told ELi, ““We see this behavior and these crimes as a serious concern for our community, public safety and well-being of all who reside in or come to our community.”
In Michigan, arson charges require that the burned property be valued at $1,000 or more or that the offender have a prior conviction, but Connelly told ELi that police may alternatively bring a charge of Malicious Destruction of Property (MDOP), which can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.
Did Council’s changes to the Disorderly Conduct Code play a role in events this time around?
While Aaron Stephens was Mayor, Council changed the City’s Disorderly Conduct Code, partly with an eye to preventing police from bringing what Stephens and others saw as unnecessarily severe enforcement of the kind that could allow for the introduction of officers’ biases. At the time, concerns were raised about whether these changes might impede officers’ ability to deal with “celebratory couch burning.”
But Connelly tells ELi, “While the disorderly code may have some changes, illegal activity such as MDOP and Arson can still be policed.”
Earlier this year, Stephens told ELPD he did not want to see tear gas used ever in East Lansing. And while one MSU student told an ELi reporter that she saw police at Cedar Village on Oct. 30, with tear gas cannisters, Connelly told ELi that wasn’t the case.
“ELPD does have chemical munitions,” Connelly explained, “but only uses it in cases of extreme unrest if authorized by the Chief of Police. No tear gas was utilized at all,” on Oct. 30. “This person may have mistaken other tools as tear gas. There was no tear gas on scene at all.”
In 2019, ELi ran an interview with Deputy Police Chief Steve Gonzalez in which Gonzalez described innovative techniques ELPD was using to disperse big post-game crowds. This time around, though, the scene at Cedar Village was poorly controlled, with a car flipped and other significant destructive behaviors breaking out within large crowds.
Asked what was different this time, Connelly explained, “The major difference appeared to be crowd size, various locations and demeanor.”
What does he mean by “demeanor”?
“This crowd was more destructive in nature,” said Connelly. “In my opinion if you weigh the crowd size and demeanor, our approach worked, but the challenge was the widespread destructive behavior.”
Asked about whether he was concerned about officers’ safety, Connelly answered, “There are always increased officer safety concerns, along with concerns to the public’s safety during these events. Fires, cars being flipped and damaged, things being thrown into crowds always presents an increased risk of injury to us and those we serve.”
And now, Connelly told ELi, “Our Investigative division is actively working these cases and tips are coming in.”
Update: About five hours after this article was published, President Stanley issued a statement about campus safety which included this: “MSU continues to work with our partners in East Lansing to identify those who took part in recent vandalism and arson, and we offer our commitment and support to the City of East Lansing to work together to maintain a safe off-campus community. Students who are identified as participating in illegal activities will be subject to our student conduct code and will be held accountable for destructive behavior.” Read his full statement here.