(July 13, 2018) A short video clip posted privately to social media shows a uniformed Ocean City police officer sizing up and punching what appears to be a restrained male African-American youth in the stomach before lifting him and rolling on top of him, while a stunned crowd gathered in front of an under-21 nightclub, protested.
Six people were arrested during the July 5 fracas — two adults and four unidentified minors. Two of the latter were 16-year-olds, one male and one female, and the two others were 13 years of age.
Police chief Ross Buzzuro, in a prepared statement, said the department’s Office of Professional Standards is investigating the incident.
Muhammed Purnell, 20, from Delmar, Maryland and Martin Ward III, 20, from Salisbury both face disorderly conduct charges from the incident.
According to Pfc. Daniel Jacobs, who prepared the charging documents for Purnell, he was on bicycle patrol performing a business check on the H2O nightclub on Worcester Street shortly after midnight when he saw a shirtless man “jumping around and yelling.”
Noticing the officer, Purnell apparently cupped his hands around his mouth and screamed an obscenity denoting a narcotics officer.
Others joined in the chorus, and Jacobs called for backup.
According to Jacobs, it took 16 police, including two mounted patrols on horseback, to quell the situation.
Another officer, Alex Paulina, was on foot patrol and responded to the call for backup. Approaching the situation, Paulina reported hearing Ward threatening a mounted police officer while a group of friends apparently attempted to restrain him.
Breaking free of his associates, Ward reportedly began repeating obscenities, which led to the arrest for disorderly conduct.
Both Ward and Purnell are identified by police as being six feet tall and about 180 pounds each. Neither was featured in the video.
The video shows a seated black male who is much smaller than the unidentified officer restraining him. The police officer had hold of both of the male’s hands, and his legs were fully extended in front of him. The male officer was leaning on the suspect’s back from a squatting position.
The officer appeared calm and the male did not appear to be struggling from the portion of the video made public.
However, the officer raises his unobstructed right arm to about head height, poises it there and delivers a solid punch to the male’s lower right abdomen, near his rib cage. When the male winces from the impact, the officer rolls him over and lands on top of him on the pavement.
“The Ocean City Police Department is committed to providing the highest degree of professional conduct and quality police services to all residents and visitors. We understand the public’s concern over the video, however; the video that was posted shows just a few seconds of a much larger incident that occurred that night,” Buzzuro said in a prepared statement.
However, the OCPD has declined to provide what is normally public information that would add context to the altercation.
OCPD spokeswoman Lindsay Richard declined to identify the officers involved, and to provide the incident reports associated with the incident. No camera footage from police body cameras or from mounted dashboard cameras on patrol cars was provided.
Richard said a Freedom of Information Act request must be filed to obtain public records, which Ocean City Today filed on July 6. The police have 30 days to provide the information, or provide a detailed explanation of the exemption from Maryland Public Information Act upon which the denial is based.