The Storm’s Wake: The Legal Aftermath of Springfest 2010

Jeremiah Knupp -- March 8th, 2011

Infamous events tend to produce iconic images and the Springfest celebration held in Harrisonburg on April 10, 2010 was no exception. The resulting disturbance involved an estimated 8,000 people, flying bottles and burning dumpsters and ended up with police officers in riot gear firing tear gas to disperse the crowd. The following Tuesday’s publication of The Breeze, the James Madison University student newspaper, had the headline “WAR ZONE” and featured a photo of a crowd of students surrounding an individual standing on a car by a burning dumpster. Court procedures on February 22 brought the case of that individual, Peter Morgner, to a close.

Cover shot courtesy of The Breeze

Following the incident Harrisonburg-Rockingham Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst stated, “Never should we be faced with the disrespect toward lawmen that I saw in the videos and the photographs. People think that they can, with immunity, throw bottles and concrete and rocks at our officers. I stand here today to say they will not have immunity. They will pay in a court of law.”

In the week after the Springfest incident a “Special Task Force” that included members of the Harrisonburg Police Department, Virginia State Police and members of JMU faculty combed through images and videos taken of the event, both by police personnel, by local media and those posted online on sites like Facebook and YouTube. The HPD did not put a price tag on the activities of the Special Task Force, but HPD spokesperson Mary Hope Vass stated that the investigation involved seven to ten officers.

HPD Criminal Investigations Commander Lt. Kurt Boshart said that while several suspects were identified as a result of the Special Task Force not all cases were deemed worth pursuing. The post-Springfest investigation also involved a raid on the offices of The Breeze, by Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst, to obtain photos taken of the incident by Breeze photographers. The incident garnered both national attention as well as condemnation from the Student Press Association and the Society of Professional Journalists and calls for Garst’s resignation from the state Libertarian Party. The Breeze and the Commonwealth’s Attorney office later settled in an agreement where the state Division of Risk Management paid the paper $10,000 to “resolve any monetary payment . . . including compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs” and The Breeze released 20 photos from the 926 that had originally been confiscated.

Peter Morgner was one of two individuals identified and charged as a result of the Special Task Force. But according to Morgner’s attorney John Holloran, it wasn’t a Breeze photo or YouTube video that resulted in Morgner being identified. On April 10, after the crowd had been dispersed from the Village Lane area, Morgner witnessed a beating and approached a police officer to report what he saw. Holloran maintains that the officer later recognized Morgner in Springfest photos and used the personal information that Morgner had given with his report to identify and arrest him.

Photo by David Casterline, Courtesy of The Breeze

“If Peter had not approached the police he definitely would not have been arrested,” Holloran stated.

Morgner originally faced 12 charges, including nine felony charges of assault on a law enforcement officer and attempted malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer. Morgner’s attorneys tried to have the trial moved and subpoenaed Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst to testify at the trial. Both were unsuccessful. On January 27 a failed attempt to select a jury resulted in a mistrial.

On February 22, Morgner’s attorneys and the Commonwealth’s Attorney office reached an agreement where Morgner plead guilty to one count of simple assault felony assault on a police officer in return for having the remaining charges dropped. He was sentenced to six months in jail. Having been in jail since July 2010 for violating his bail, Morgner’s time served was applied to his sentence and he was released. Morgner’s guilty plea resulted in the only felony charge successfully prosecuted from the incidents at Village Lane.

The conclusion of Morgner’s case two weeks ago, along with the trial of Lucie Banting, brought to a close the prosecutions that stemmed from the Springfest incidents at Village Lane.

In total, 26 people were arrested and charged for crimes that occurred at the Village Lane incident. Of that total 15 were arrested by the HPD, five by the Virginia State Police and four by Virginia Alcohol Control Board officers at the scene. Two other individuals were later arrested and charged by the HPD.

Of the 26 arrested, 21 were charged with public intoxication and/or failure to disperse from an unlawful assembly, both misdemeanors. Most of these cases were prosecuted by June 2010. Thirteen were convicted of one of the charges. Four were convicted on both charges. Guilty verdicts resulted in fines of between $25 and $550. Four people had both charges dropped, dismissed or were found not guilty.

The remaining five, including Morgner, had charges that included felonies and that could result in jail time.

  • Justin Lyons was found not guilty of assault on a law enforcement officer and participating in a riot with a deadly weapon.
  • Japheth Rawls IV was arrested on four counts, including felony assault on a law enforcement officer and participating in a riot with a deadly weapon. He reached an agreement with the Commonwealth’s Attorney where the charges were reduced and he plead guilty to misdemeanor simple assault and participating in a riot and was sentenced to seven months in jail.
  • Christopher Dashiell, coverage of whose case was absent in the local media, ended up with the longest sentence resulting from the incident. Dashiell, who was originally charged with felony assault on a police officer and unlawful assembly, pleaded guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to 20 months in jail.
  • Lucie Banting was originally charged with failure to leave an unlawful assembly and felony assault and battery on a police officer and conspiring to incite a riot. The Commonwealth’s Attorney dropped her charges, citing “new information” (“Charges Dropped in Riot Case,” Daily News-Record, Jan. 22, 2011).

“There were inconsistencies as to what officers saw and some of their initial statements proved to be inaccurate,” said Banting’s attorney John Hart.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney later charged Banting with misdemeanor failure to leave an unlawful assembly. She pleaded guilty and received a fine.

Photo by Robert Boag. Courtesy of The Breeze.

“Our biggest concern was the protection of law enforcement officers, as well as those citizens whose property was being destroyed or who were being assaulted,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Alycia Eldridge, who prosecuted most of the cases resulting from Springfest. “We identified as many suspects as we could. Our office was aggressive in prosecuting these cases and I believe we did the best that we possibly could.”

Of the 26 people arrested at Village Lane, ten were not JMU students. Of the five charged with the most serious crimes three, including Morgner, were not JMU students.

In a February 10 article in The Breeze, Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst stated of the Springfest incident, “It was just a perfect storm that I hope will never happen again. It was not a happy time for anybody. It was awful for the victims, awful for law enforcement, awful for JMU students and awful for anybody who lived here.”

The beating, which Morgner witnessed and reported to the police, is still being prosecuted. The incident happened at the Corner Market parking lot on Port Republic Road at 9 p.m. on April 10, away from the Village Lane area and after the crowd had been dispersed. Six individuals were arrested and charged with beating a single victim. None of the accused were JMU students. Charges were later dropped against five of the suspects. The remaining suspect, Kalvin Lamar Jackson, has a trial scheduled for May 13 on felony charges of malicious wounding and malicious wounding by mob.

Related Links

HPD investigation Moves Forward

JMU Students Charged in Village Lane Riots

Breeze, CA Office Reach Settlement

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47 Responses to “The Storm’s Wake: The Legal Aftermath of Springfest 2010”

  1. Renee says:

    Great recap, thanks Jeremiah.

    It’s too bad this blew up so big in the media, and it’s interesting to look back and see that basically only 2 JMU students were charged with serious crimes.

    It will be interesting to see what the “replacement event”, if there is one, is like this year.

       0 likes

    • Joseph says:

      Of the 26 people arrested at Village Lane, ten were not JMU students. Of the five charged with the most serious crimes three, including Morgner, were not JMU students.

      so…16 people charged where JMU students? and Morgner wasn’t a JMU student? I thought was at one point? wasn’t he part of the Breeze at some point?

         0 likes

      • Peter Morgner was not a JMU student or a part of The Breeze. Two of those arrested and charged with less serious crimes were staff members of The Breeze (at the time) and they didn’t participate in the paper’s coverage of the event. To clarify, of everyone arrested at Springfest, 16 were JMU students.

           0 likes

        • Joseph says:

          sorry getting him confused….so 16 of the 26 arrested were JMU Students…of the serious crimes, 3 of the 5 were JMU students….I’m not sure how that looks good for JMU.

          and I’m not sure why the media is to blame or how they “blew it up” this was a big story…it was out of control.

             0 likes

  2. Ross says:

    Renee’s quote:
    It’s too bad this blew up so big in the media, and it’s interesting to look back and see that basically only 2 JMU students were charged with serious crimes.

    Don’t forget that Marsha Garst, The Commonwealth’s Attorney was fined $10,000.00 for one of her roles in the incident.

       5 likes

    • Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

      The partiers were young, foolish, and drunk. What was Marcia Garst’s excuse?

         6 likes

    • Joseph says:

      no sure wasn’t. the commonwealth of VA settled a lawsuit.

         0 likes

    • Ross, you’re yet again, inaccurate.

      Marsha wasn’t fined.

      The Commonwealth’s Department of Risk Management paid $10,000 to the Breeze to resolve any civil compensatory and punitive damages, and costs sustained by the Breeze as a result of the search. The $10,000 was paid for by the taxpayers of Virginia.

         1 likes

      • Ross says:

        So, what you are saying is – Marsha Garst was fined as a result of her conduct while acting in a professional capacity. The fine was then paid in the amount of $10k by the taxpayers of VA.

        The $10k was a token “punishment” that did not ultimately burden Ms Garst financially. The punishment was paid in full by taxpayers of VA. We were allowed to pay that fine because this Commonwealth Attorney did not perform her duties within the boundaries of the law.

        Thank you Mr Briggman for pointing out my inaccuracy. I do find golden nuggets in your posts every now and then.

           3 likes

        • Again, as Dave said, the payment was not a “fine” imposed on the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office but an amount agreed to by the CA, the Division of Risk Management and The Breeze’s attorneys.

             0 likes

          • Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

            You say tomato, I say tomatoe. Let’s call it an “abuser fee”.

               0 likes

        • I wrote exactly when I meant to write.

          As you’ve already done, you’re free to embellish it any way you’d like.

             0 likes

  3. cook says:

    A small book could be written about this event, the idiocy of the students, the handling of the crisis by law enforcement, and the legal aftermath. Two thoughts here: (1) where’s the justice in punishing very, very few (minor) participants very, very harshly? (2) it would be interesting to learn what lasting impact, if any, this event has made in the lives of students at JMU. (3) it would be interesting to hear whether law enforcement officials have met to analyze the events of April 10 to determine whether any mistakes were made and to implement any changes in the future, to learn from this event. OK, that’s 3 thoughts.

       4 likes

    • Thought 2: I asked several people in the CA’s office and law enforcement if they had seen a noticeable decrease in large parties, public intoxication/underage drinking arrests, etc. No one could tell me that there was a definite change between the ’09-’10 school year and the current school year. This is an interesting question. Has the legal aftermath of Springfest and JMU’s efforts to curb alcohol problems amongst its student body caused a decrease (as confirmed by statistics) in these incidents over the last year?

      Thought 3: The State Police made an extensive after-action report on the event. This document is not available to the public. The HPD said that they have made changes to their plans and preparations for this type of event. They would not specify what these changes were, as they constitute the department’s “tactics,” but they did state that they have determined that they will need to increase their tear gas inventory to a budgeted amount of approximately $26,000. I’m not sure what they previously budgeted for tear gas, but they used nearly $9,000 of tear gas munitions at the Springfest incident.

         0 likes

      • Chris Foster-Baril says:

        I work downtown, and there seems to be a lot more JMU students there on weekend nights than in past years. I was thinking there maybe a correlation between this and JMU cracking down on “exterior parties” in the south east part of town.

        It probably has something to do with Dukerz and The Pub closing as well.

           0 likes

      • I would love to see that state police report.

           1 likes

        • Ross says:

          What is the average education of a Police Officer?

             0 likes

          • Joseph says:

            all police officers on all levels are trained in police work.

            but i’m not really sure what the point of your question is.

               1 likes

          • In this area, no college education is required for ANY state or local law enforcement agency, whereas, up in northern Virginia most departments require Bachelor’s Degrees.

               1 likes

      • Sarah says:

        Wow, almost tripling their supply of tear gas?! That does NOT sound like a solution to me. The tear gas was brought in last year after things had already been allowed to get massively out of control. In my opinion, it was used as a last resort and only exacerbated the violence and law breaking, and contributed to the unsafe conditions of that day. I hope the police report’s findings and focus for future events like this is not to simply increase force.

        As a student who attended Springfest, I obviously have a biased view. I headed to the party area sometime between when police officers attempted to break up the scene and when the tear gas started flying. I walked through a crowd of thousands and traveled several blocks without once encountering a SINGLE officer or having ANY knowledge that my being there was now considered unlawful. None of the other people I ran into knew or thought it was worth mentioning if they did. I left soon after because the area was far too crowded and people around me seemed too drunk and too tense. (looking back, what a great decision.) I was wondering why there weren’t any cops around and how things had gotten so unruly as I walked home. It was probably another hour and a half before the riot police finally stepped in.

        I honestly feel like there were many opportunities for the cops to step in earlier and less violently. They could have, for instance, attempted to stop new people from entering the area. If I had seen one cop on my to the party I probably would have considered turning around. Many sides are to blame for that day, but I sincerely hope that HPD are not going to fight back more harshly because of one bad incident. Both sides should learn from that bad day, not wage war over it!

           7 likes

        • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Sarah. I doubt many (any) in this discussion, including myself, can say they were there that day.

          Also, good on you for leaving of your own accord.

             0 likes

          • Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

            No, but I visited the Springfest Battlefield and walked amongst the blackened husks of burned out dumpsters, saw the trampled grass, and debris-strewn sidewalks. I imagined the youthful spring fever, the scent of beer, sweat, candy-hair and returned to a place in my youth. A place where a police officer would walk up, patiently remind me that I was acting like an ass and it was time to pack it in before he had to arrest me. Face-to-face, not from behind a riot shield, through a bull-horn.

               6 likes

        • As my comment stated, I don’t know if HPD “tripled” their tear gas supply. They stated that they were increasing their tear gas munitions inventory to a budgeted amount of nearly $26,000, but I don’t know how much they previously budgeted for gas. They used nearly $9,000 of munitions on April 10.

             0 likes

          • Sarah says:

            Good point.

            Although an annual budget of $26,000 gives an impression that they are planning on three similar incidents to the one at Forest Hills happening in one year. Or, if something similar were to happen, they intend to use more. We don’t know if they used their entire tear gas inventory last year, but you do say that they are at least increasing it. Sounds to me like they are attempting to implement a stronger degree of force.

            I would like to point out that that the burning of dumpsters, pulling down of light posts and trees, and intentional smashing of windows did not start until after the riot police descended and tear gas started flying. The tear gas didn’t cause the partiers to leave peacefully; it just led to a mob mentality, increased destruction, and violence targeted at the police. The students fought back (irresponsibly so, but what did they expect from a stubborn group of drunks).

            I’m not saying that the police are to blame for what happened that day. I just think that the way to handle any future unlawful assemblies by young people needs to be addressed differently. I just hope that increasing tear gas supply is not the only insight the HPD received from reviewing the incident.

               1 likes

  4. Daniel says:

    I know it’s not popular to blame JMU for these events, but it is JMU who attracts the groups of people who hold and attend these parties. If there were no JMU, there most likely would be no large parties every weekend, and there would probably be no such thing as Spring Fest.

    Local’s go to these parties for booze and pretty women. When you mix booze and pretty women, you get a volatile concoction. The next thing you know there is a fight between two guys, the cops are called, and dumpsters get set on fire.

    If you want to get rid of wild collage parties, get rid of Wal-Mart so the local women have a chance to loose weight, get the color back in their skin, and become attractive again. When you have a surplus of attractive women, there is no need to fight for them. ;)

    Seriously, though. If the local cops took the time to chit-chat with the kids in the JMU housing areas and get to know them a little bit; instead of showing up LOOKING for someone to take to jail, the kids would probably feel a little bit better about the cops presents. I know JMU brings a lot of good things to the community, but the partying sure does give them a black-eye. Seems to me JMU would be willing to host/fund some training for local law enforcement on how to better handle the students.

    $9,000 in tear gas? Wow!

       0 likes

    • “If there were no JMU” can serve as the beginning of lots of speculative sentences, such as, “If there were no JMU, we’d be Waynesboro.” or “If there were no JMU, I wouldn’t live here.” or “If there were no JMU, hburgnews wouldn’t exist.”

      The list goes on.

      Local law enforcement has reached out to the residents and owners off Port by going door-to-door and “chit-chatting” with those residents. Whether the manner or extent of their outreach is enough is debatable, but some outreach has indeed taken place.

         3 likes

      • Daniel says:

        Yeah, that’s not really what I meant. It is an effort, though. I pass though some of the JMU housing (re: hunters Ridge) areas from time-to-time on weekend nights just to see what’s happening. Pretty often you’ll notice two, maybe three, patrol cars sitting side-by-side and the officers (sometimes on bikes) chatting with each other. They look like vultures eying their next meal. You’ll notice party goers walking in their direction, and when they see the officers, they’ll quickly cross the street to avoid confrontation.

        Sure, these party goes are probably as guilty as OJ Simpson and they’ve probably got something to fear because they’re most likely breaking the law by drinking under age or drunk in public. The cops focus on this. The cops are not there to help or to make sure everything is okay, they’re there to make arrests. Because of that, the cops are feared and sometimes hated.

        Instead of standing around like vultures, the cops could be interacting with the students, minus the drinking (of course). The cops are not going to stop the drinking or the drunk in public or the partying. But the cops could swing by an outdoor party, toss a few beer pong balls for fun, chit-chat, tell some cool stories about a car crash that just happened, etc…

        I guess what I’m saying is, I feel the cops could try to better relate with the students, rather than fight with them.

        Before my comments are taken out of context, let me first say there IS a problem with the partying at JMU and something needs to be done about it. But it’s not something you can just snap your fingers at and instantly cure the problems. It will take years to correct. Filling the drunk tank every weekend is not going to fix it either.

        I wonder what would happen if there were an age restriction on kegs of beer in the City..??

           0 likes

        • When a uniformed police officer shows up at your party to play beer pong, one of two things has just happened:

          1. The party is over.
          2. The strippers have arrived.

             10 likes

          • Joseph says:

            yeah i can imagine the story on here when some fight breaks out at Hunter’s Ridge and Hburgnews gets a pic of a cop throwing a ping pong balls at a party…the editor here would have a field day with that caption.

            cops are there to protect and keep order, sometimes that order is simply from being seen in uniform by their car. if that makes a kid think twice about that next stupid act then the cop did his job.

            Cops for the most part are nice, resonable people, as long as you aren’t doing anything crazy and being unreasonable.

               1 likes

  5. Emmy says:

    I’ve lived in Harrisonburg my entire life (with a very brief stint in Alexandria) and while this event was an unfortunate blemish on the school’s reputation and overall pretty embarrassing for our city, I do not want to live in a Harrisonburg without JMU. As a whole what they touch gets better and I’m just fine with having them here. I know things have changed over the years but I maintain that if you don’t want to deal with college students, don’t live in a college town. It’s not like they just got here.

       3 likes

    • Daniel says:

      They may not have just gotten here, but the school has taken over a lot of the City in a few short years, not to mention adding thousands of students. I lived on Monument Ave back in the late-80′s, I could not imagine living there now. Course, I did have a short stint on South Ave in 1999 to 2000…yuck.

      Things change, and as a whole I guess JMU has been beneficial. But they can stop growing anytime now… IMO, they’ve become more of a nuisance ever since the whole eminent domain scandal on Main Street.

         0 likes

      • Andy Perrine says:

        As for ‘taking over,’ JMU is a public university and must accommodate as many students as possible. Virginia’s population is growing and has been for years. For instance, you may have read in local media that the budget just recently set by the General Assembly and Governor mandated that JMU enrollment grow.

        What’s more, Harrisonburg High School and Rockingham Memorial Hospital both decided on their own to move. The university bought both properties as they became available.

        The university committed to preserving both properties when another entity such as a developer might have torn them down and built high density housing or retail.

        As for the ‘scandal’ on Main Street, eminent domain was neither invoked nor ever mentioned by the university. The private owner of the Main Street property was a willing negotiator and was paid over $5 million for a parcel appraised at just over $1 million.

        I hope this clears up some misconceptions. Full disclosure: I work for the university.

           7 likes

      • Emmy says:

        It’s a university! It’s going to get bigger. It’s a good school, so people want to come to it and so we get more people. That’s just the way it is and I seriously doubt it’s going to change. Are there parts of the growth I don’t like? Sure there are, but overall JMU improves things. Using Memorial Stadium as an example…it was falling apart and in no way a tribute to those it was supposed to honor. Now it is a beautiful, well kept stadium with a gorgeous tribute to out soldiers out front. It didn’t get bigger, it didn’t take anyone else’s property over and I would have a hard time believing anyone who said it ruined their neighborhood. Memorial Hall is also in much better shape now that it is a JMU building.

        I know lots of locals hate the growth of JMU and hate putting up with the students. I don’t enjoy all of them, but then I don’t like a lot of people, but I do like what they bring to the town.

           11 likes

    • I agree, Emmy…especially after having seen several faculty performances at the Forbes Center recently. Makes me wonder why, with all of the performers on JMU, we don’t have a local orchestra.

         3 likes

  6. Anyway, a comment on what this story is actually about: I don’t think there is a way to effectively prosecute large group activities like riots or protests.

    It’s my understanding that protesters at large events in the U.S. (WTO, RNC, DNC) generally get arrested just to get them off the streets. Charges are later dropped, because the prosecutors and courts can’t handle a high volume of cases like that.

    I’m not aware of any successful grand-scale prosecutions of a group of people who were arrested at a large gathering.

       3 likes

  7. Jeremiah, one correction in your excellent article:

    Peter Morgner pleaded guilty to one count of Assault on a Police Officer, which is a felony, and not “simple assault”, which is a misdemeanor.

       0 likes

    • Dave you are correct. The charge was “assault on a police officer” (state code 18.2-57(C)).

      The story has been amended to reflect this.

         1 likes

      • Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

        …And will spend the rest of his days with reduced civil rights and job opportunities as a result. CA Garst really showed that disrespectful twerp!

           1 likes

      • Yep..I’d have emailed that to you, but I don’t think WordPress does that.

           0 likes

  8. Emily Cavan says:

    Good article – good debate. Thanks!

    People here might also be interested in some of the data posted and questions raised by Joe Lynch at http://jmualcohol.blogspot.com/.

    He points out that JMU has a lot of information about alcohol issues within the student body but has done very little to address the problems in a responsible, preventative (instead of just reactive) way.

    Good food for thought.

       0 likes

  9. Joan says:

    I agree with the fact that there was limited amount of police force there that day. Not a single police officer showed up until they were covered in shields and had tear gas to employ. I believe jail time for this event is drastically unnecessary and devastating to those individuals as well as the JMU community. I do not feel that the circumstance and resulting chaos of April 10th was considered during the prosecution. I believe that there has been injustice served here for the “benefit” of the community. I personally feel that JMU has taken limited to zero responsibility for this event and that alone says a lot about the leadership and character of the school.

       0 likes

  10. Ross says:

    I was told that the police had received new riot gear just a short period before the so called riot and couldn’t wait to try it out. Does anyone know how long they had the (new) riot gear before the incident?

       0 likes

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