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Boston Debates Police Force After Fan's Death

The death of a college student who was hit in the eye with a pepper spray-filled projectile has sparked anger and questions about whether police used too much force to break up revelers after the come-from-behind victory by the Red Sox (search).

Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole (search) said police are considering discontinuing the use of the weaponry that killed Victoria Snelgrove (search) as officers tried to contain an estimated 80,000 fans who poured into the area Wednesday after Boston beat the Yankees in New York.

O'Toole said the officers showed "great restraint" but had to fire the projectiles after a few revelers set small fires and threw bottles at police and vandalized property, endangering others. Snelgrove, a 21-year-old Emerson College student, was hit in the eye and died hours later.

The plastic balls of pepper spray, which are propelled from devices similar to paintball guns, are meant to help police control large groups without injuring people.

"We want to use the least force necessary in order to maintain the crowd," O'Toole said. "Very unfortunately, it resulted in a horrible action."

Mayor Thomas Menino (search) said more police will be at neighborhood bars during the upcoming World Series to make sure fans do not get too drunk or rowdy, but he backed off his threat to ban alcohol in the area during the games.

Instead, the city and bar owners agreed to limit the number of people lining up to enter Fenway Park-area clubs and to prevent live television coverage inside the bars so patrons do not get rowdy as they play to the cameras.

Fifteen people, including a police officer, suffered minor injuries in the game's aftermath, and Boston police reported eight arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct.

Several people who were near the area where Snelgrove was shot said the crowd seemed under control when the pepper-spray balls were fired.

Doug Conroy, 33, of Portland, Maine, said he and several other people had climbed the rafters of Fenway's famed Green Monster when police began to order them back down. He said he saw an officer in riot gear shoot something into the crowd below him.

He said he heard a woman scream, then heard sobbing. "A lot of people then looked over and saw her lying awkwardly on the sidewalk and blood coming out of her nose. She wasn't moving and we were just hoping she was just unconscious," Conroy said.

He called the police action "an egregious overreaction."

"There was nothing violent going on. It was all celebration," he said.

Boston police bought the projectile weaponry for crowd control during this summer's Democratic National Convention, but did not use it then because protests remained relatively subdued.

Melvin L. Tucker, a security consultant who specializes in the use of force by police, said "less-than-lethal" weaponry has become an increasingly popular among police departments around the country over the past five years as a replacement for tactics such as nightsticks and tear gas.

"This is generally a lot safer. It's a real tragedy," said Tucker, a former police chief of Tallahassee, Fla., and Asheville, N.C.

Emerson College canceled classes Friday, held a counseling session and tentatively scheduled a memorial service next week for Snelgrove, whom friends and teachers described as a hardworking student who dreamed of becoming an entertainment reporter.

When journalism professor Bob Klinkscale read the news to his class Thursday, "It sounded like the air was sucked out of the room," he said.

Grief turned to anger at the offices of the Boston Herald, where readers called and e-mailed to complain about a graphic front-page photo of a bleeding Snelgrove lying on the ground. The newspaper issued an apology for that photo and a smaller one inside Thursday's editions.

Snelgrove's death was the second in Boston this year during rowdy celebrations of sports victories. Police were caught understaffed when riots broke out after the New England Patriots' Super Bowl win Feb. 1. One person was killed and another critically injured when a vehicle plowed into revelers.

In a Boston sports brawl last year, former New York Yankees players Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia are scheduled to go on trial Tuesday on charges of assaulting a Fenway Park groundskeeper who cheered the Red Sox during the 2003 American League Championship Series. Prosecutors on Friday dropped charges against the groundskeeper, whom Nelson had accused of bumping him and spitting on him.