Police come under scrutiny in Ocean City, Md., after viral videos of force on boardwalk

Police in Ocean City, Md., are coming under criticism over footage that has emerged in recent weeks showing officers tasing teenagers on a boardwalk after they allegedly violated a local vaping ordinance.

In videos of an incident that went viral on social media over the weekend, officers could be seen using force on a group of teenagers on the local boardwalk, including a clip that showed a group pinning a Black teen to the ground as he was repeatedly kneed by an officer.

The encounter led to the arrests of at least four of the teens, officials said.

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Local officials said in a statement on Sunday that police officers first encountered the group Saturday evening while on patrol. At the time, officials said that officers confronted the group because they were allegedly vaping on the boardwalk — a violation of a local ordinance that bars smoking and vaping outside of designated areas on the boardwalk.

Officials said officers approached the group again that night after they claimed a male in the group, whom they identified as 19-year-old Brian Anderson, began vaping again. Not long after, officials claimed the incident escalated after the teen refused to provide proof of identification “and became disorderly.”

From there, officials said events quickly escalated. 

As Anderson was being arrested, officers also claimed another teen, 19-year-old Kamere Day, was “yelling profanities and approaching officers.” Officials said officers placed Day under arrest for disorderly conduct and that he was also charged with obstructing and hindering, failure to obey reasonable and lawful order.

One video making the rounds online shows officers subduing a Black teen who is pinned to the ground during the interaction. One officer is seen yelling at him to “stop resisting” as he repeatedly knees the teen’s stomach while he remains held to the ground 

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Officers also arrested two other teens, 19-year-old Khalil Warren and 18-year-old Jahtique Lewis, officials said. In a statement, officials claimed they arrested Warren not long after he was observed on private property next to two “no trespassing” signs.

Officials said Warren was arrested after officers gave him a “lawful order to leave the private property if he was not staying at the property” and claimed the teen grew disorderly. Lewis, officials said, was also arrested after they claimed he tried to strike a Public Safety Aide with a bicycle.

The teens were charged with disorderly conduct and resisting and interfering with arrest, among other offenses. Officials said the teens have all been seen by a Maryland District Court Commissioner and released.

The news comes as police in Ocean City are also drawing scrutiny over footage that went viral of another Black teen’s recent encounter with local officers on the boardwalk over its vaping ordinance. 

In the short clip of the interaction that also went viral over the weekend, the teen, later identified by The Washington Post as 18-year-old Taizier Griffin, could initially be seen with his hands raised during an encounter with officers. 

Video then shows him being tased and dropping immediately to the ground after the teen appears to reach one hand behind him toward his backpack.

His mother said in an interview with the Post that she was told by witnesses that Griffin had been stopped by police shortly before the incident for having a vape. But she said he put the vape in his pocket and walked away afterward.

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His mother said witnesses told her that police grabbed her son by the arm shortly after and her son pulled away in a back and forth before he was seen with his hands raised later in the clip.

“They end up slamming him back on the ground and hog tying him at his feet," his mother told the Post. “I’ve never seen police do that.” 

She said her son was also arrested and charged with second-degree assault.

The incidents have prompted fierce blowback online over the measures local police are taking to enforce the vaping ordinance.

The president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill tweeted on Sunday that Maryland’s state attorney general should review these incidents involving OCPD. 

In the statement issued over the weekend regarding the incident on Saturday, city officials said they 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,” they said. 

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They added the uses of force from the recent arrests “will go through a multi-level examination by the Assistant Patrol Commander, the Division Commander and then by the Office of Professional Standards.”

Asked for a comment, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) office shared a video of Hogan speaking with a WBAL reporter about the incidents. Hogan told WBAL that he did get a chance to review the video and there will be a investigation on the recent incidents.