South Bend school officials respond after another large fight brings police to Navarre

South Bend police responded to a large fight at Navarre Middle School on Thursday, March 9, 2023.
South Bend police responded to a large fight at Navarre Middle School on Thursday, March 9, 2023.

SOUTH BEND — Education leaders and police officials met Friday afternoon after an adult and minor were arrested the night before at a girl's basketball game at Navarre Middle School.

Nearly all on-duty South Bend police officers were called out to the school to handle a situation that elicited a strong response from South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski.

"This has simply got to stop," Ruszkowski said in a video posted in the immediate aftermath of police response.

It's the second such fight this winter to draw a large South Bend police presence to a basketball event on the city's west side. School officials say new restrictions will be implemented and disruptive behavior will not be tolerated moving forward.

"The ongoing conflicts and physical altercations from spectators at our school athletic events is unacceptable," leaders of the South Bend school district and west side Empowerment Zone said in a joint statement Friday.

What happened Thursday night?

A release from the police department says one person was evaluated Thursday for minor injuries, but no one else was reported to be hurt.

The fight, however, is the second time since the start of February were South Bend police have had to send most of their on-duty officers to break up a fight at a school basketball game. On Feb. 2, a brawl in the stands at Washington High School interrupted, and eventually cancelled, a basketball game between the Panthers and Riley High School.

Senior night ruined:South Bend Washington, high school basketball deserved better than Thursday's 'fan' brawl

"As the crowd was letting out after the game, several fights broke out," Ruszkowski said. "That morphed into the point we had to use every car but two in the city of South Bend. This was more elevated from Washington High School. ... This has got to stop happening here."

School officials say the fight began as an incident between students attending the Navarre and Dickinson Fine Arts Academy girls basketball competition and escalated.

According to Ruszkowski, there were initially three South Bend officers at the middle school Thursday night as the department received a report that someone with a firearm was at the game. The officers were looking for the individual as the game was letting out around 7:30 p.m., but then the fighting ensued.

Police say there is no evidence any gunshots were fired. In addition to the adult and juvenile arrested, two other juveniles were detained, but eventually released to their parents. School officials say those taken into custody were a student and parent.

In a video posted to the police department's social media pages after the fight, Ruszkowski criticized the South Bend school corporation's handling of the situation.

"This has simply got to stop," Ruszkowski said. "And I will tell you that there were administrators here. They were trying to assist, but there comes a point in time when assistance becomes a hindrance, and that’s what we experienced here. And I can assure you by next week, I will be talking with school administrators and other personnel that may have been involved out here because when the police have to intervene like this then the police have to intervene."

Ruszkowski said multiple St. Joseph County and a few Indiana State Police officers were also on scene to help break up the brawl.

Thursday night's game was between Navarre and Dickson Fine Arts Academy, according to Navarre's Facebook page. Navarre is in the South Bend school district, though it is part of the South Bend Empowerment Zone.

The previous fight at Washington High School has since resulted in criminal charges against five young men allegedly involved in instigating the incident.

How are educators responding?

Navarre is one of five schools belonging to the South Bend Empowerment Zone, a subset of schools within the South Bend Community School Corporation.

Leadership from the district and Empowerment Zone shared a joint statement Friday evening addressing their response to recent fighting.

South Bend Superintendent Todd Cummings and Zone Chief Davion Lewis met with Ruszkowski and South Bend Division Chief Eric Crittendon on Friday, according to the statement, "to strategize ways to eliminate fighting at our athletic events and to ensure the safety of our students and staff."

Crittendon — who has worked with the South Bend district for years, overseeing its longstanding School Resource Officer program — was recently named the corporation's new director of security and emergency preparedness. He is expected to take his new position with the district later this month, according to school board documents.

School leaders say they rolled out new security measures following the incident at Washington. Those measures included placement of additional security guards, a ban on backpacks and moving ticket sales to an online-only purchase for high school athletic events.

Middle school security and admissions procedures are now being investigated in tandem with Thursday night's events. School officials did not specifically address criticism levied about how administrators interacted with law enforcement that night.

District and Zone officials said new restrictions would be introduced, but did not give specific examples of what's being considered at this time other than to say "disruptive behavior is prohibited and any individuals taking part in such will be removed."

Tribune reporter Carley Lanich contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: School officials respond after multiple arrests at Navarre basketball game