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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Spokane police respond to couch-burning in aftermath of Gonzaga win

UPDATED: Thu., April 1, 2021

Gonzaga’s win sending the undefeated men’s basketball team to the NCAA Final Four sparked a rowdy gathering and couch burning near campus Tuesday night.

Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh warned students that “non-compliance” with Spokane police and Gonzaga security is “unlawful and completely unacceptable.”

Police were called about 6:30 p.m. to Dakota Street and Nora Avenue, where about 400 people gathered around a burning couch soon after Gonzaga beat USC, Spokane police Officer John O’Brien said.

Because of the size of the crowd, police dispatched its civil disturbance unit, which responded to the scene, O’Brien said.

“The presence of SPD alone seemed to deescalate the situation,” O’Brien said.

No arrests were made.

Gonzaga spokesman Pete Tormey said the university has launched an investigation.

Damage, destruction or vandalism of property is among actions and behaviors listed in the Code of Conduct as “inconsistent with University expectations.”

Students found responsible for Code of Conduct violations will be subject to “appropriate disciplinary action,” Tormey said. Generally, a student’s prior conduct history (if any), the impact of the actions on the community and precedent established by past violations are taken into consideration, he said. Disciplinary action can include suspension or expulsion.

Gonzaga officials declined to comment on specific conduct matters, citing the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Gonzaga is set to play UCLA on Saturday.

“The excitement of the moment is no excuse for unsafe behavior,” Tormey said in a statement. “We will continue to communicate with our students about safe practices and the potential consequences of their actions. We’ve urged our students, staff, faculty and visitors to rededicate themselves to the COVID-19 health safety protocols followed throughout the academic year including mandatory masks, social distancing, and safe outdoor gatherings.”

Spokane police will work with the university to prepare for possible celebrations in the final rounds of the tournament, O’Brien said.

“Hopefully, they win the national championship, and the Gonzaga students and citizens enjoy that win but will act respectfully and responsibly to each other and the community,” O’Brien said.

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said he already had been on the phone Wednesday morning with Gonzaga and Spokane police officials to prepare for possible celebrations on Saturday .

Spokane firefighters were notified of the fracas Tuesday night but were not needed to extinguish the couch fire, Schaeffer said.

There probably wouldn’t have been much couch left for firefighters to put out. As of Wednesday afternoon, all that remained of the couch were a few hunks of charred wood by the side of the road and a strong smell of soot.

Neighborhood resident Carissa Bowen said she’s angry about the burning.

“People could have gotten hurt,” Bowen said. “(The fire) easily could have spread and got that house just in a matter of minutes. That’s just common sense.”

Jeremi Zamora lives across the street from where the couch-burning happened. He said the Gonzaga students were civil and the incident didn’t bother him.

“I thought it was great,” he said. “Can’t wait until we win it all and see a bigger one.”

Gonzaga student Lucas Brisby saw the burning. He said it’s important that students respect everyone’s health and safety. At the same time, he said, students are going to celebrate Gonzaga’s second Final Four appearance no matter what.

“It’s hard, because we’re at a point in time where the pandemic is still very real and students still really want to celebrate,” Brisby said. “Everybody’s pent up inside. Everybody just wants something to be excited about.

“So it leads students to do crazy things at times.”

Brisby said the school could help make sure incidents like this don’t happen.

“I think one thing the university could do is provide socially distanced events for students in the future,” he said. “Because the fact of the matter is, it (partying) is going to occur.”

Reporter Greg Mason contributed to this report.

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