ROOSEVELT -- Police in the small town of Roosevelt are being accused of overreacting by using pepper spray after a high school football game on a group of Polynesian men and boys performing a traditional dance.
The group performed the Haka, an ancient war dance from the fierce Maori tribes of New Zealand. The Haka is performed at football and rugby games around the world.
Police said two officers used pepper spray after failing to break up the dancers as they blocked an exit for players and game officials after Union High played host to rival Uintah on Thursday night.
The dozen or so men and boys who performed the Haka traveled from the Wasatch Front to Roosevelt to watch a relative play his final game for Union.
Union lost the game to end the season without a win, and the group tried to boost the team's morale by performing the Haka as the players left the field.
Spectators, coaches and players told police that everything was fine and they should let the men perform the dance, Jessica Rasmussen said, but officers asked them to make room and started using pepper spray.
Rasmussen, who attended the game, said she and others watching also got spray in their eyes, ears and mouths.
Union fan Jason Kelly said the way police treated the visitors was an embarrassment to the community of Roosevelt.
"I've never seen anything like it," Kelly said. "It was totally unprovoked."
Police said the incident is under investigation, and anyone wanting to lodge a complaint should contact the department.
Police said many people in the crowd knew the group was going to dance, but the two officers and others didn't.
Spectator Shawn Mitchell said while he didn't view the dancers as a threat, the impromptu performance might have played a role in how police responded.
"If they're going to do something like (the Haka), maybe some planning could be done ahead of time," he said.