OCEAN CIY, Md. — Videos showing Ocean City police officers kneeing one Black teen and using a stun gun on another on the boardwalk in separate confrontations that began over vaping are stirring criticism of the department’s use of force in such cases.
On June 6, police tried to stop a teen because he was vaping, police said in a statement. When he pulled away from an officer grabbing him in a “bear hug” and began threatening to kill them, an officer used a Taser, according to charging documents.
Video of the encounter shows the teen with his hands up, but as one hand drops toward his backpack, an officer fires a Taser and he falls to the ground. Other videos show the teen being carried away by officers with his hands and feet tied. Court documents state that the 18-year-old from Perryville is Black.
A video of another boardwalk confrontation on Saturday shows another Black teen being held by several officers while an officer knees him repeatedly as a dozen officers and public safety aides hold back an angry crowd. One teen is taken into custody after lifting one of several police bicycles encircling the officers and another is tased as he struggles with officers.
That confrontation began after officers approached a large group of people vaping to tell them it was prohibited, then returning when they saw a member of the group begin to vape again, police said in a news release. The teen refused to provide identification, and police said he became disorderly and resisted as officers tried to arrest him.
Online court records show the four 18- and 19-year-olds from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, are Black. No attorneys are listed for them in court records.
Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund president, retweeted the video of the June 6 incident and called on Attorney General Brian Frosh to investigate. Frosh responded that he was “deeply concerned” about the incident based on that video and another he had seen and that he had shared his concern with law enforcement agencies.
In a tweet apparently referring to the June 6 incident, House Speaker Adrienne Jones called the video “deeply disturbing’ and called on Ocean City officials to make reviewing the incident a priority, dismiss the charges and retrain officers on use of force.
“Vaping on the Boardwalk is not a criminal offense,” she said. ”Black and brown children should not be tased while their hands are up. Officers should not kneel on the back of a minor. Vaping should not yield a hog tie.”
Police said in the news release that “officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance.” In a statement Monday, Ocean City police said they understand the public’s concern over the video of the incident on Saturday and it is under review.
“While the use of force is never the intended outcome, our police department’s first priority is to protect and serve,” police said. “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.”