After concerns were raised over the use of a low-flying state police helicopter to disperse a “disorderly” tailgate ahead of the Penn State vs. Ohio State football game on Saturday, Penn State announced a change in its game day enforcement plan.
“In the aftermath of the deployment of game day safety and security measures, the decision has been made to discontinue use of a helicopter to make crowd announcements at football games pending an assessment,” Penn State Police and Public Safety said in a statement on Tuesday. “We will continue to confer with state police, and evaluate steps taken, which is our normal practice.”
According to Penn State and state police, the helicopter was used to disperse a “large-scale party that was getting out of hand” and not listening to verbal commands to leave the area.
When tailgaters refused to disperse, state police said they deployed personnel, including the Pennsylvania State Police Tactical Mounted Unit. That’s when, police said, the crowd turned unruly. One mounted officer fractured his left hand as Penn State police say he tried to “subdue” a man who assaulted his police horse.
Joseph Oleynik, 21, faces a felony charge as Penn State police say he approached the trooper’s horse on three occasions and “struck the animal on the left side with his hand.”
As ground troops were pulled away in an attempt to deescalate the situation, state police said the Aviation Unit was called in to assist.
“A helicopter was utilized to issue commands to disperse via loudspeaker. When personnel on scene noticed the helicopter was low enough to disturb items on the ground, the helicopter pulled up to a higher altitude,” state police said in a statement.
As the helicopter flew over the large tailgate at Yellow Lot 23 outside of Beaver Stadium, tents, cornhole game boards, grills, food and other debris all went flying across the grassy fields.
Several fellow tailgaters and members of the public at large voiced concern over the practice, saying it caused a safety hazard.
“Can you imagine if one of the tents got sucked into the propeller and the helicopter went down? It could’ve been a major tragedy,” Scott Olson, who was tailgating nearby, said.
Oleynik has been charged with taunting a police animal, resisting arrest, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness, according to Penn State police. The incident is still under investigation and additional charges are pending.
A representative from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Flight Standards District Office in Harrisburg confirmed to the Centre Daily Times that the incident at the tailgate is under investigation.