Crime & Courts

Police response to crowded tailgate at USC-Tennessee game prompts apology

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott apologized Monday for the conduct of several deputies dispersing a crowd at a black alumni event during the South Carolina-Tennessee football game.

“It did not look good,” Lott said of how several officers dispersed a large crowd of people in a tailgating spot near the S.C. State Fairgrounds.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s responded to a report of overcrowding around 8 p.m. Saturday at a homecoming tailgate hosted, according to Lott, by the group “USC BAR.”

BAR stands for Black Alumni Reunion, according to USC spokesman Jeff Stensland.

Lott would not go into specifics but said the actions of a mounted patrol officer on his horse were troubling. The department’s internal affairs investigation is looking into the incident, including body camera footage.

“There was nobody arrested, there was nobody injured. It just didn’t look good,” the sheriff said.

Lott, a USC alumnus who was at the game and received calls about the incident during the game, said the presence of the horse and the deputy’s behavior in dispersing the crowd were concerning.

A mounted officer rode the horse through the crowd and brandished a riot stick, which is standard equipment, Lott said.

“The horse was very intimidating. The actions on the horse were very intimidating,” Lott said. “This wasn’t a riot. ... It was a large crowd we were attempting to disperse and I don’t feel like we did that in the proper manner.”

Some videos of the officer riding the horse into the crowd have circulated social media.

“This was a completely uncalled for incident interrupting a non-violent fellowship of a majority college educated black crowd,” an attendee posted on Facebook.

The mounted patrols have been part of game day patrols at USC for about 10 years.

“I’m sorry that it happened,” Lott said. “We are addressing it. ... We’re reevaluating continuing to use the mounted patrol at games and just how we do stuff with mounted patrol.”

Stensland released the following statement Monday evening on behalf of the university:

“The University of South Carolina’s Homecoming celebration is a special time for current students and alumni to come together and share their passion for the university. The fact that visitors at an alumni tailgate celebration felt threatened or unwelcome is completely contrary to the atmosphere we pride ourselves on creating. We appreciate the comments Sheriff Lott made today and we look forward to assisting with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department review of the incident and improving procedures moving forward.”