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Top Lawmakers Call Use of Force By Ocean City Police “Disturbing”

Ocean City
Ocean City by air. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo

The state’s top political leaders expressed outrage Monday morning after the release of cellphone footage showing Ocean City police officers exerting force against a group of Black teenagers on the boardwalk.

In a statement, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D) called the videos “painful.”

“Extrajudicial violence is not justice,” said Ferguson in a statement. “No matter its form, it will always be unacceptable and further erode our social contract.”

“We must do better,” he continued. “We can, and we will.”

Video footage captured Saturday evening showed Ocean City police officers physically subduing and repeatedly kneeing one Black teenager in the chest and using a Taser on another. The teens were initially approached by police for alleged violations of a local ordinance that prohibits smoking and vaping on the boardwalk.

Ocean City police officers also used a taser the weekend before on another young Black man who had his hands in the air, according to reporting from Delmarva Now.

Three videos from the two incidents have gone viral on Twitter, where people are calling for investigations into the use of force.

“The video from this weekend in Ocean City is deeply disturbing,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said on social media early Monday. “Vaping should not yield a hog tie.”

Jones called on Ocean City officials to review the incident, dismiss the “overzealous charges” and “reform or retrain officers on use of force immediately.”

Four men were arrested, and all have been released on their own recognizance.

“We are aware of the social media videos circulating regarding this incident,” the Ocean City Police Department said in a Sunday news release. “Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance.”

The police department’s news release does not mention the use of force or Tasers, as seen in the videos.

According to the Ocean City Police Department’s use of force policy, officers are to “use no more force than is objectively reasonable to accomplish lawful objectives.”

“Naturally, the use of any force to accomplish unlawful objectives is prohibited,” the policy reads. “The Department will not tolerate excessive and/or punitive force.”

Excessive force is defined in the policy as “force which is not objectively reasonable,” will not be tolerated by the department and officers who see it employed are to intervene “ so long as it does not pose a safety risk.”

The violent arrest occurred at the start of tourist season — the most profitable time of year for local business owners.

“This does nothing to keep communities safe or inspire tourists to visit,” gubernatorial candidate and former Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) said in a statement. “It does raise serious questions about the training that these officers are given and it is just more evidence that people of color are treated differently than white people in situations like this.”

John King, another gubernatorial candidate, called the footage “horrific.”

“This is exactly why [the] General Assembly passed comprehensive laws on policing reform,” King tweeted. “Lives & human rights are at stake.”

Comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Peter V.R. Franchot (D) tweeted that there should be “swift and strong consequences for any and all misconduct.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, shared a video of the June 6 arrest and called on Maryland leaders and Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) to investigate.

“Based upon this video and another I have seen, I am deeply concerned about this incident,” Frosh responded on Twitter. “I have shared that concern with the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

In a brief interview with WBAL on Monday afternoon, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said he had a chance to review the video, and that leadership at the Maryland State Police have communicated with the Ocean City police regarding an investigation.

“It didn’t look terrific from the little clip that we saw, and I don’t know the circumstances that led up to that or exactly what happened,” Hogan said, “So I’d rather not speak out without getting all the facts and seeing the entire incident.”

City senator supports police

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore), who represents Ocean City, said that she asked the department to see video of the incident before she made a public statement.

“I was shown the entire OCPD video … and given the FACTS of the violations,” she wrote in a 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,” Carozza said. “The individuals were informed of the smoking and vaping prohibition on the Boardwalk, and their follow up violent actions led to their arrest.”

Carozza also said she participated in a “seven-and-a-half hour night ride” with Ocean City police officers the night after the incident, “witnessing several incidences, violations, and arrests.”

“Throughout the entire night, it was clear to me the public safety of visitors and residents was the top priority as I watched members of the OCPD (including foot, bike and vehicle patrol) enforce the laws and ordinances of my home community,” Carozza wrote. “In ALL of these incidences, I personally observed the OCPD officers and public safety aides handled themselves with professionalism as they worked to diffuse and resolve the situation at hand.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated throughout the day Monday to include additional reactions. An earlier version of this story included footage showing police using a Taser on a man at the board walk on June 6. 

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Top Lawmakers Call Use of Force By Ocean City Police “Disturbing”