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Postgame Haka dancers in Utah pepper sprayed by police

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Controversy has erupted in Utah after police reacted aggressively to a traditional Maori dance being performed by men and high school students after a small town football game on Thursday night.

According to the Associated Press, Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, among other sources, a group of relatives of a player for the Roosevelt (Utah) Union High football team was attacked with pepper spray by police officers in Roosevelt, Utah, while performing the dance shortly after Uintah's 17-14 victory. The group performing the Haka reportedly blocked the exit from the field, and while their dance was destined to be a quick one -- as practically all Hakas performed by sports teams are -- police insisted that they move from the area to allow players and others to leave the field.

When they began dancing instead, Roosevelt police began using pepper spray to displace the crowd.

"I've never seen anything like it," Union fan Jason Kelly told the Deseret News. "It was totally unprovoked."

[Related: Utah High school team pays tribute to paralyzed teammate]

The Haka has become a more popular pregame or postgame attraction for teams across American sports after its use by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team spread globally. The All Blacks, who perform an intimidating Haka before every game, won the 2011 Rugby World Cup on Sunday in an 8-7 victory against France.

The pepper spray spread far beyond the performers, reaching players and fans at the game and causing fans to run from the scene with watering eyes.

You can see video of the Haka melee above, which shows police officers insisting that the dancers "make a hole," in their formation to allow players and others to leave the field. As onlooker Zack Aguiniga told the Salt Lake Tribune, the dancers may not have been able to hear that command because they were in the middle of their Haka performance, chanting loudly in unison and drowning out surrounding noise.

As the police officers sprayed the crowd, either a dancer or onlooker could be heard yelling "I'm going to sue you guys," at the officers.

Nearly all who reported witnessing the incident said the dancers posed no security threat and questioned why police had acted the way it did.

"Five seconds into it, the police officers started coming at them with their clubs, telling them to make room," Union fan Jessica Rasmussen told the Tribune. "They started spraying Mace."

Shawn Mitchell, who was at the game with his son and mother-in-law, also categorized the police response as a clear overreaction when interviewed by the Deseret News.

"I didn't see anything that looked like there could be a threat," he said.

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