The regional director for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service arrived in Pullman Tuesday morning to review and assess the handling of a fight at the Attic nightclub and the adjoining Top of China restaurant on Sept. 8 by the Pullman Police Department. The occurrence, which involved the use of pepper spray, is said to have affected up to 300 people at the club. Some students contend the use of pepper spray was excessive force and that the decision was influenced by race.

Involvement by the U.S. Department of Justice came in response to a request from the City of Pullman and from Washington State University, which wanted an independent investigation. The federal agency has been asked to review the event and recommend follow-up steps.

To ensure a thorough and fair handling of the issue, the City of Pullman and the university are also arranging to have an additional “independent investigation” of the incident conducted by an outside organization. (The Department of Justice is only providing an assessment and recommendation.) The cost of the investigation is not known at this time.

The incident began at approximately 1:35 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8, when the police received a report of a fight at the Attic nightclub, 215 Main St. In an initial news release, the police reported that when they arrived, they were unable to enter the doorway and used pepper spray to begin breaking up the fight. Ultimately, the pepper spray drifted into the upstairs dance club, affecting an estimated 300 people, including WSU students and several faculty and staff members. People hurried out of the building and onto Main Street, which police closed off. Three bystanders from the club were treated at the hospital, and two were admitted — one for a knee injury and one apparently due to the effects of the pepper spray.

Later Sunday at about 4 p.m., police were called to McGee Park, where a 23-year-old Seattle man was reported to be waiving a gun in the midst of a crowd of about 300 people — including families with children — who had gathered for a barbecue. The man, who was a brother of one of the males involved in the early morning fight, was reported to possess an empty holster but not a gun. Soon after, the police arrested a 16-year-old Seattle girl who had a loaded Daewoo .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun. The girl said that she found the weapon, but police subsequently learned that the gun was registered to the Seattle man’s father.

During the past 10 days, university officials have been working with city officials, students, and members of the university community to ensure that appropriate issues are reviewed and satisfactorily resolved.

In a university statement to faculty and staff on Sept. 11, WSU President V. Lane Rawlins said, “We are all injured when this happens. I’m very concerned about the students, faculty and staff that were injured, and about the protection of their rights.”

On Sept. 12, the City of Pullman issued an open apology to all “innocent victims” who suffered secondary affects from the pepper spray that was used during the Attic incident.

On Sept. 17, Rawlins provided students with a written, published statement committing the university to pursuing a fair and appropriate independent investigation and response to the incident. Rawlins noted that he had spent much of the past week working with advisors and city officials to “make sure that the positive efforts of so many good people are not destroyed. I think there is a good plan of action now, and I urge all of you to cooperate and insist on results.”

Rosa Melendez, regional director, Community Relations Service, U.S. Department of Justice, was in Pullman Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 17 – 18, meeting with students, faculty, staff, police, and city personnel and to take their comments.

Because the investigation and resolution process “may take some time,” Rawlins urged “everyone to be patient and work together.

“The events in downtown Pullman are disturbing, and we should not forget the hundreds of hours that university faculty, students and staff have spent to improve the climate in our combined community,” Rawlins said. “Let us work together to keep building trust.”