UPDATE: Citations Dropped in Wausau "Nerf War" Incident

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UPDATE: Tues 2:39 PM, April 29, 2014

Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel has announced disorderly conduct citations for six students involved in a “nerf war” incident that prompted police response last week have been dropped.

During the press conference Chief Hardel explained the seriousness of the call, saying the reporting partying was a couple with children. Their call to 911 reported two vehicles pinning another vehicle. The couple then said they saw weapons, which later turned out be nerf guns, drawn and believed the situation could be homicidal. As the 911 call was played you hear the male caller tell his wife to not let herself be seen.

The call prompted response from 10 squads, and an estimated 12 officers. Chief Hardel addressed criticism from the public in their response, which involved officers with guns drawn and the teens initially placed in handcuffs. Hardel said despite Wausau being a small town, they deal with weapons calls on a regular basis and the officers were following protocol.

While nerf wars aren't anything new, and have been played in numerous communities through the U.S., he says game has reached an unhealthy level.

The citations were dismissed contingent upon the student taking part in a presentation to educate their peers about the possible consequences of playing the game.

Hardel said his officers did what they felt was right, based on the amount of information they had, and he supports them.


UPDATE: Mon 1:53 PM, April 28, 2014

The Wausau Police Department is hosting a press conference Tuesday regarding a high school game of "nerf wars" that prompted police response and citations for six high school students.

In a release, the Wausau Police Department said a resolution has been reached with those involved in this incident.

A parent of one of the students tells NewsChannel 7 citations for two of the boys were dismissed on Friday. The other four students are expected to have their citations reduced or dismissed.

The $240 disorderly conduct fine also meant the boys were on athletic probation.

ORIGINAL STORY: Thurs 4:43 PM, April 24, 2014

Six Wausau West High School students have been cited for disorderly conduct after a senior tradition apparently spiraled out of control. Now, their parents are questioning how the situation was handled and if the tickets were necessary.

The six students were participating in a game known as "Nerf wars.” It's played every spring by seniors at Wausau West and Wausau East High School. Teams of four try to eliminate other players by shooting them with Nerf pellets. But just before 10 p.m. Tuesday night the game moved to Stevens Drive-- right by the high school.

One player pointed a Nerf gun at two friends in a car. A neighbor saw it and called the police.

Police say they didn't know the "firearms" were just Nerf guns until they had everyone out of the cars and in handcuffs.

"There's a lot of people saying it should have been readily obvious that these kids were using Nerf guns, and I don't think it's that easy. Some of the Nerf guns are smaller. They're handgun size so if it's nightime and it's dark out it may very well be difficult to see that it's a Nerf gun,” explained Patrol Captain Ben Bliven of the Department's response.

The department also sent out a media release regarding the incident:

We have done several media interviews and posted a message about this incident on our Facebook page. There are two items we would like to clarify due to the misinformation we are hearing throughout the community.

First is the issue of the police response to the call. At approximately 9:45 PM, a person called dispatch and reported several people got out of their car and pointed firearms at people in another car. Officers responded with lights and siren and located the vehicles described by the caller on Stevens Drive. Based on the information provided by the caller, officers believed there was a serious, potentially life-threatening, situation unfolding with individuals carrying firearms.

Because of the reported weapons involved, officers initiated a high risk vehicle contact. This is different than a normal traffic stop where an officer would approach the vehicle. In a high risk vehicle contact, the officers direct firearms at the vehicle to be ready in case someone in the vehicle would attempt to use a weapon. Officers then use the public address system in their squad car to direct the occupants of the vehicle to keep their hands over their head. Officers direct each occupant, one by one, to exit the vehicle and walk backward toward the officers. Then officers place each occupant into handcuffs, check them for weapons, and escort them to the back seat of a police car.

In this case, after all the people were removed from the vehicles, officers went up to check the vehicles for weapons. Once officers approached the vehicle, they saw the Nerf guns and concluded this incident was different than what was reported.

Officers then moved into the parking lot at Wausau West High School to open the roadway for regular traffic. They interviewed the people who were involved in the incident.

The second issue we would like to address in this press release is the decision to issue disorderly conduct citations to the six individuals involved. The basis for this decision was the disruption caused to the neighborhood, not the use of Nerf guns. This incident happened on Stevens Drive, in a residential neighborhood, on the side of the roadway. There was enough disruption to cause a neighbor’s attention to be drawn to see what was happening. The neighbor then saw what they believed to be several people brandishing firearms and pointing them at another vehicle. This resulted in the 911 call.

Attached to this press release is the letter sent home to parents as a joint effort by the Wausau School District and Wausau Police Department to make sure parents and students were aware of this game. This letter was mailed earlier this month. While we encourage our youth to have fun and make great memories, there is potential in a game like this for negative consequences should the game go too far. It is important to make good decisions. Being on the side of the road and moving around with a gun in hand will attract the attention of the neighbors and most likely scare them. This incident happened during hours of darkness and it was not apparent to the 911 caller that the guns used were Nerf guns.

We will continue to investigate this incident by reading police reports, looking at squad video, speaking to officers involved, and listening to radio transmissions to evaluate our response.

A parent NewsChannel 7 spoke with Thursday said she's not upset with how the police responded. She understands they have a duty to protect the community against danger, or in this case perceived danger. What makes her upset is the fact that she says her son didn't break any laws but was issued a citation anyway.

Now because of the $240 disorderly conduct citation he, and the other five students involved are on athletic probation. She said the probation won't be lifted until their court date which is in late May when the spring sports season is all but over.

NewsChannel 7 has requested dash cam video of the incident. The video was unavailable Thursday, and due to the student's ages it is unknown if it will be released.