UPDATE (June 15, 6 p.m.)
Nearly three days after arrests stemming from several individuals vaping on the Ocean City Boardwalk gained national attention for the way police officers handled the incidents, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan is weighing in.
“The Town of Ocean City is currently investigating two incidents that are circulating on social media," he said via email Tuesday afternoon. "It is standard procedure to run a thorough investigation into any arrests where the use of force is initiated. We believe in total transparency and will cooperate fully in these and all investigations."
According to videos from the incidents, which occurred around 8:30 p.m. Saturday near 12th Street on the Boardwalk, officers were shown using force and restraint on several individuals who they said were combative and resisting arrest after being told not to vape on the Boardwalk. Several of the videos have gone viral, with the defendants, who also face charges, appearing on national news outlets.
In regard to the specifics of the incidents, Meehan explained that while the town has an ordinance that prohibits vaping/smoking on the Boardwalk, that in and of itself is not an arrestable offense.
"It is a municipal infraction and subject to a fine," his statement said. "Refusal to comply with warnings to stop vaping/smoking resulted in the officers asking for ID to issue a citation. It was only after the individuals refused to provide identification that this became an arrestable offense."
Meehan added that police officers have a goal to keep residents and visitors safe "by enforcing the laws and ordinances in place."
"We hope to seek compliance, not arrests, in order for everyone to safely enjoy our community," he said. "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.”
Meehan also included a statement from the police in his email.
"We understand the public's concern over the video circulating of the disorderly crowd, which is currently being investigated by the Office of Professional," the statement said. "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."
UPDATE (June 14 11:30 a.m.)
A Republican senator from Ocean City has issued a statement backing actions by police regarding a viral incident on the Boardwalk Saturday that some are classifying as use of excessive force on several individuals cited for vaping.
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) said in a news release that she spent seven-and-a-half hours riding along with officers from the Ocean City Police Department on Sunday, the day after the incident, and observed nothing but lawful interactions with individuals.
She said she also asked officers about the incident from the day before and came to her own conclusions after witnessing the video from the occurrence in its entirety.
"When I asked OCPD about the June 12th Boardwalk arrests being shared on social media BEFORE making a public comment, I was shown the entire OCPD video of the event (not just snippets) and given the FACTS of the violations," Carozza said in the statement. "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 second degree, and resisting/interfering with the arrest. 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."
Viral videos on social media of the incident show officers using various levels of force on the individuals and a news release from the department said the actions are under review.
The following news release from the town of Ocean City has been lightly edited for clarity.
On June 12 at about 8:30 p.m., officers were on foot patrol in the area of 12th Street and the Boardwalk when they observed a large group vaping on the Boardwalk. Officers approached the group and informed them of the local ordinance prohibiting smoking and vaping outside of the designated areas on the Boardwalk.
As the group walked away, officers observed the same male start vaping again. Officers approached the group again to further address the violation. During the interaction, the male refused to provide his proof of identification and became disorderly. A large crowd of people began to form around the officers. The male was later identified as Brian Everett Anderson, 19, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Officers attempted to place Anderson under arrest for failure to provide necessary identification for the violation and began to resist arrest. Anderson was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting and interfering with arrest, second-degree assault and failure to provide proof of identity. Anderson was seen by a Maryland District Court Commissioner and released on his own recognizance.
During the interaction with Anderson, Kamere Anthony Day, 19, also of Harrisburg, yelled profanities and approached officers during the arrest.
Officers placed a marked police bike in front of Day and advised him to back up. Day refused to comply with the officer’s orders, continued yelling profanities while attempting to approach the officers who were placing Anderson under arrest. Officers approached Day to place him under arrest for disorderly conduct. Day resisted arrest. He was charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing and hindering, failure to obey reasonable and lawful order, resisting and interfering with arrest, and second-degree assault. Day has been seen by a Maryland District Court Commissioner and released on his own recognizance.
Police officers and public safety aides attempted to provide a perimeter to separate the aggressive and hostile crowd from the officers making arrests. Officers observed Jahtique Joseph John Lewis, 18, also of Harrisburg, push an aide in the chest while yelling profanities. Lewis then picked up a police bicycle and attempted to strike an aide with it. Officers were able to remove the bicycle from Lewis but Lewis assaulted the aide again. Officers attempted to place Lewis under arrest, which Lewis resisted. Lewis was charged with disorderly conduct, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order, obstructing and hindering, second-degree assault and resisting and interfering with arrest. Lewis was seen by a Maryland District Court Commissioner and released on his own recognizance.
As police officers and public safety aides maintained the perimeter, officers observed Khalil Dwayne Warren, 19, also of Harrisburg, standing on private property next to two “no trespassing signs”. Officers gave Warren an order to leave the private property if he was not staying at the property. Warren became disorderly. Officers attempted to place Warren under arrest, which Warren resisted. Warren was charged with trespassing on posted property and resisting and interfering with arrest. Warren was seen by a Maryland District Court Commissioner and released on his own recognizance.
We are aware of the social media videos circulating regarding this incident. Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance. All uses of force go 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.