GALVESTON — Police officers launched canisters of pepper spray into a crowd of Mardi Gras revelers early Sunday morning as they cleared the streets at the end of the night’s celebrations.
Police chief Henry Porretto said his officers made the choice to use the gas after a small number of people attempted to block the street with metal barriers and began to throw bottles and rocks at the officers attempting to remove the obstruction.
“A group of people that were doing illegal things, took the barricades and tried to barricade the street,” Porretto said.
“As those officers advanced to the barricades, they started taking bottle fire. They were hurling bottles in a manner that was dangerous.”
Nineteen people were arrested during the police’s sweep of The Strand. Porretto called it a sour note at the end of a two-day stretch that only featured eight other Mardi Gras-related arrests.
Around 11 p.m. Saturday evening, police began making preparations to clear the large crowd that had gathered on The Strand.
About an hour later, the police began announcing that the Mardi Gras gates would be closed and stopped all new entries at 12:15 a.m.
At that time, a large line of people were still waiting to enter at the 25th Street gate, but Porretto said the police did not encounter any problems with the crowd that was denied entry.
Around 12:40 a.m., a group of Galveston and University of Texas Medical Branch police officers began lining up at 21st Street and directing pedestrians to exits further west down The Strand.
Porretto said when the police line reached the intersection of The Strand and 22nd Street, a group of people had moved metal from along the side of the street to its center and refused to continue down The Strand. When officers were sent to move the barriers, Porretto said they were assaulted with bottles and rocks.
“They were being attacked — absolutely,” Porretto said of his officers. “Once they were assaulted, once our police force started taking fire from bottles and rocks and projectiles, we have no alternative other than to respond to that resistance.”
Officers launched two canisters of oleoresin capsicum — commonly known as pepper spray — into the crowd. The canisters disperse a visible gas when they are opened.
After the canisters were launched, the police continued their sweep of The Strand without further resistance, Porretto said.
According to a media release from the department, one man was arrested “after he was observed to be a main agitator of the disturbance.”
The man, Noe Andrade, was charged with resisting arrest and riot participation. Police called Andrade a known gang member.
Porretto said the department would consider seeking more serious charges against him, based on his participation in the night’s events.
Though the promoter’s contract allows music to be played on The Strand until 1 a.m., Porretto said the police chose to begin clearing the street early after considering the size of the crowd that had gathered.
“The commander went to (Mardi Gras promoter Mike Dean) and said it’s our recommendation that we stop charging and don’t let anybody else in,” Porretto said. “Mr. Dean abided by that request.”
Porretto said he believed vendors on The Strand were still selling alcohol after the gates closed and as the police were preparing to clear the street. He said in planning for the event, officials did not consider an earlier end to alcohol sales.
Dean, the owner of Yaga’s Entertainment, the promoter of Mardi Gras, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Saturday’s arrest was similar to what occurred on the second Saturday of Mardi Gras last year. Seven people were arrested during that incident.
Despite more people being taken into custody this year, Porretto said he felt the situation was more under control and more quickly contained. No property damage or injuries were reported following the sweep.
City officials plan to meet later this week to discuss what issues might have to be resolved during future events. Porretto said he will discuss the possibility of using a different type of barrier next year.