Police defend actions at TUSD ethnic studies meeting

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - The Tucson Police Department is defending its actions from Tuesday night's TUSD meeting, while district officials say they could've changed some things.

Tucson Police Department officers were present to assist uniformed TUSD Department of School Safety personnel as they managed crowd control at 1010 East 10th Street.

"They (the police) were there to make sure people's rights were maintained within the rules that govern public meetings," said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor.

And from the video Villasenor has seen, he says his officers did nothing wrong.

"From what I saw my officers acted very professionally, no one was injured.  There were no struggles."

Some audience members felt the police presence actually made things worse.

"Tension, mistrust and fear with all the police there," Victor Silverstein said. "For just parents gathering to voice their opinions and some teachers and students, I think they went overboard."

But as some of those opinions were heard, things got heated inside the meeting room.

Wednesday morning TUSD Board President Mark Stegemen said, "I wish that we had done a few things differently, I wish the people in the audience had behaved a little differently, so I think there are a couple mistakes on both sides."

During the course of the meeting, several audience members became disruptive and were asked to leave.

Seven of those individuals refused the Board's request and Tucson Police personnel had to escort them out of the room. They were then arrested for third-degree criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor.

Police transported six of them to a nearby facility where they were issued criminal citations and released with a promise to appear in court. One of the arrestees was not transported, due to a physical impairment, and was instead cited and released at the arrest location.

Stegemen says his biggest fault during the meeting was that he didn't allow the everyone to speak.

"I wish that I had gone through that whole list, it probably would have added an hour to audience speaking time, but that would have been a better thing to do," he said.

Stegemen also says there was probably more security than needed, but the district felt they had to have it given last week's events where students chained themselves to school board member chairs.

"As it was, it turned out to be more than we needed, but we couldn't take the risk of having the meeting shut down again," Stegemen added.

Silverstein, who was inside the meeting room, says the police presence was an overkill and only added to the tension in the room.

"It almost seemed like a police state. It didn't seem like a board meeting."