The Town of Ocean City drew national attention this week for the way police officers handled the arrests of several people seen vaping on the Boardwalk on Saturday night.
Videos that went viral depicted police officers using a Taser on a Black man while another showed the law enforcement representatives repeatedly kneeing a Black man in the ribs while on the ground.
On Tuesday, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro weighed in on the incident.
"We understand the public's concern over the video circulating of the disorderly crowd, which is currently being investigated by the Office of Professional (Standards)," he said in a prepared statement.
"While the use of force is never the intended outcome, our police department's first priority is to protect and serve. They do not target based on race or age. They are focused only on keeping our residents and visitors safe by enforcing the law, and diffusing situations as quickly as possible while maintaining control over the environment."
Police said officers were on foot patrol near 12th Street on the Boardwalk on June 12 at about 8:30 p.m. when they came across a large group of people vaping on the boards. Police approached the cluster of people and informed them of a local ordinance prohibiting smoking and vaping outside of designated areas on the Boardwalk.
As the group walked away, police said, officers saw one – later identified as Brian Everett Anderson, 19, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – start vaping again.
Officers then approached the group again, police said, to further address the violation. During the interaction, Anderson reportedly refused to provide proof of identification and became disorderly. At the same time, the group of people with him began to congregate around the officers.
Officers attempted to place Anderson under arrest, and he started to resist, until he was eventually taken into custody, police said.
He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting and interfering with an arrest, second-degree assault, and failing to provide proof of identity.
While Anderson was being taken into custody, Kamere Anthony Day, 19, of Harrisburg started yelling profanities at the officers and approached them.
One officer placed a police bicycle in front of Day and advised him to back up, but he refused to comply and continued yelling profanities at them. The officers then approached Day to arrest him for disorderly conduct, police said, and he resisted until he was successfully taken into custody.
Day was charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing and hindering an investigation, failing to obey reasonable lawful order, second-degree assault, and resisting and interfering with an arrest.
The surrounding crowd became hostile and aggressive as Day and Anderson were taken into custody, police said, and officers set up a perimeter to separate them from the crowd. With the perimeter in place, Jahtique Joseph John Lewis, 18, of Harrisburg allegedly pushed a public safety aide in the chest and yelled profanities at him.
Police said Lewis then picked up a police bicycle and attempted to strike an aide with it before other officers were able to remove the bike from his hands. In the process, though, Lewis assaulted the aide again, police said.
Lewis was taken into custody despite resisting arrest.
Lewis was charged with second-degree assault, resisting and interfering with an arrest, disorderly conduct, failing to obey reasonable and lawful order, and obstructing and hindering an investigation.
Officers continued to hold a perimeter around the officers when Khalil Dwayne Warren, 19, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was seen standing on private property next to two “no trespassing signs.” Warren was ordered to leave the property if he was not staying there, and he became disorderly, according to police.
When officers attempted to place Warren under arrest, he allegedly resisted but was eventually placed in handcuffs and detained.
Warren was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. He was released on his own recognizance.
Videos of the incident circulated on social media almost immediately.
When force is used in an incident, police noted, it goes through a detailed review process. The uses of force from these arrests will go through a multi-level examination by the assistant patrol commander, the division commander and then by the office of professional standards.
The incident has several local and state-level politicians weighing in on the matter, some of whom are classifying the use of force as excessive, especially when considering the situation reached tense levels over the minor infraction of vaping.
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) said she asked officers about the Saturday incident on the following day, and drew her own conclusions after watching the video of the incidents in theirs entirety and not just snippets seen on social media.
"The facts are that the four individuals detained in this incident were arrested for multiple violations including disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, obstructing and hindering, assault [in the] second degree, and resisting/interfering with the arrest," Carozza said in the statement. “The individuals were informed of the smoking and vaping prohibition on the Boardwalk, and their follow up violent actions led to their arrest. These are the facts."
Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino said the situation reminded him of something that was said by former State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby: Worcester County should be the first place you want to come to visit and the last place you want to commit a crime.
Bertino said he supports the Ocean City Police and the law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
“I think those who don’t feel that they can abide by our laws, whether in Ocean City or within the county, [should find] someplace else to go and visit and not be coming to our family community coastal city – or our county in general,” he said.
The Ocean City mayor and City Council met for a regularly scheduled work session on Tuesday afternoon but remained mum on the events that took place on Saturday.
But later that day, Mayor Rick Meehan issued a prepared statement, stressing that the city is investigating the two incidents that circulated on social media.
“We believe in total transparency and will cooperate fully in these and all investigations,” Meehan said.
He went on to say Ocean City prohibits vaping and smoking on the Boardwalk, though it is not, by itself, an arrestable offense – it is a municipal infraction that is subject to a fine.
When Anderson failed to comply with the warnings to stop vaping, it resulted in officers asking for identification to issue a citation, and it was not until the individuals refused to provide identification that the issue became an arrestable offense, Meehan explained.
“Ocean City is currently the second largest city in the State of Maryland and our primary goal is to keep all of our residents and visitors safe by enforcing the laws and ordinances in place,” he said. “We hope to seek compliance, not arrests, in order for everyone to safely enjoy our community. We respect the concerns of all citizens and State Elected Officials who have commented on the videos. We pledge, on our part, to work together and thoroughly investigate the incidents in question.”