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July 18, 2019

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CCSD budget woes curb police staffing at game marred by brawl

Canyon and Basic Fight

L.E. Baskow

Basic and Canyon Springs players and coaches come to blows and police respond with pepper spray after the game, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

A high school football game featuring four ejections, more than 300 penalty yards and a massive brawl at its conclusion Friday night was staffed by a lower-than-usual five Clark County School District police officers.

The brawl ended when officers used pepper spray on dozens of Canyon Springs and Basic players and coaches fighting in the middle of the field. Video has of the incident has gone viral online.

“In years past, we’ve had more officers available, but we’ve had to lower that because of budget constraints,” CCSD Police Chief Ken Young said. “This is the lowest game-day staffing we’ve had in years.”

CCSD faces more than $60 million in budget deficits and retiring Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said he plans to make staff cuts districtwide starting next month. The district approved $135.5 million in employee raises last January and was ordered by an arbitrator to distribute an additional $19.5 million to administrators in May.

Young didn’t indicate how many CCSD officers staff more than two dozen football games across Southern Nevada each Friday but admitted the lower numbers this season affect preparedness of school police for each game.

While the primary function is dealing with crowd control, Friday’s brawl — which featured about 40 coaches and players throwing punches, swinging helmets and dog piling on one another — proved CCSD police must be ready to intervene with those on the field as well, he said.

“Usually we leave it in the hands of the coaches, administrators and referees to control what happens on the field,” Young said. “But our officers had to step in.”

One officer, who Young did not identify, shot a can of mace after allegedly seeing a staff member being stomped by players and ordering them to stop. The large, yellow cloud of pepper spray, captured on video, caused those involved in the brawl to shout in pain as they scattered back to their respective sidelines.

Young said he believed the officer acted appropriately and said police are still investigating what started the melee.

Canyon Springs defeated Basic 33-30 in overtime last season and the teams have a history of meeting in the state playoffs. But Young said CCSD police, who “do basic intel” in advance of each game, did not determine Friday’s game at Basic High School had “known potential problems.”

“There was no indication Friday night’s games would have any serious issues,” Young said. “No known bitter rivalry.”

Two Henderson Police officers were also dispatched to the field in the wake of the brawl. While local police are notified by CCSD police in advance of games taking place in their district and any perceived threats, relying on such authorities for backup is rare, Young said.

Young said police did not perform any triage at the scene or receive any requests for medical attention. Nobody involved in Friday’s brawl was hospitalized. No injuries were reported by police, no one was detained and no charges were filed. Young called the ongoing investigation into the brawl “preliminary” and said criminal charges may still be on the table for those involved.

“We want to know who initiated this and who all was involved,” he said.

Marc Ratner, the commissioner of the Southern Nevada Officials Association, said his office is still reviewing game film to determine discipline for both teams. His recommendation would be sent to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, which regulates high school sports.