COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As hundreds of Ohio State University students and fans descend on Chittenden Avenue on Saturday night for an annual mass gathering called ChittFest, drifting alongside partygoers may be the ghosts of riots past.
The block party, a Buckeye staple coinciding with the spring football game, has for years drawn drunken undergraduates to the lawns, porches and roofs for a last hurrah before finals and the end of spring semester. But two years ago – in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – ChittFest turned criminal, with 1,000 people flocking to the street, flipping cars and tearing down street signs while Columbus police watched from the perimeter.
No arrests were made that night. Despite 911 calls at Chittenden Avenue made as early as 10:13 p.m., Columbus police didn’t break up the crowd until nearly 3 a.m. In the hours between initial complaints and police intervention, dozens of people called emergency dispatchers, asking why police hadn’t arrived and being told that officers were “in the area monitoring.”
Columbus police later told NBC4 that the division’s new crowd control policies – implemented after officers pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed and shot rubber bullets at protesters in summer 2020 – prevented police from dispersing the crowd and barred the use of chemical agents, absent a threat of violence.
In the weeks that followed, Columbus police charged nine people, including three Ohio State students, for their role in inciting the riot and damaging property. Rioters flipped seven vehicles, Columbus police said at the time, and left in their wake broken windows, shattered glass littered across sidewalks, deconstructed beer pong tables and mountains of beer cans in front lawns.
What happened to those charged?
Save for two people police said were charged – whose names do not appear in Franklin County Municipal Court records – the ChittFest suspects pleaded guilty or were convicted of misdemeanors. All were sentenced to one year of probation, according to court records, and had to complete 40 hours of community service.
Seven of the nine people, whose ages ranged from 18 to 22, were charged with criminal damaging and endangerment, a second-degree misdemeanor to which most pleaded guilty. A handful were charged with rioting, while three were charged with criminal mischief. One person was charged with receiving stolen property.
None of the nine pleaded guilty to rioting, the most serious offense, instead pleading to lesser charges. Most pleaded guilty between July and September 2021, and all have been released from probation.
2021 wasn’t the first time an Ohio State block party ended in police dispersal. In 2011, police pepper-sprayed crowds of students during WoodFest — a party on Woodruff Avenue east of High Street. And in 2015, when the Buckeyes beat the Oregon Ducks in the national championship, police clad in riot gear tear-gassed up to 8,000 fans crowding High Street across from campus.
Ohio State police and Columbus police will increase patrols on campus and “in the area” for the Spring Game, spokespeople for both told NBC4. Over the past few weeks, Ohio State and Columbus police have door-knocked in the off-campus area to remind students of best practices to ensure safety.
Watch previous coverage of the 2021 Chitt Fest riot in the video player below.