Five friends, all Black, were walking together on the boardwalk of the resort town Ocean City, Md., when they were confronted by police for vaping.
A cellphone video of the confrontation shows Brian Anderson, 19, being held by several officers while an officer knees him repeatedly. The video was shot by Lauryn Gray, who told ABC News that she heard a “thud.” She also said she saw officers shouting at a man on the ground to stop resisting. When the man, Brian Anderson, yelled out, “What are you arresting me for,” one of the officers kneed him five times.
Mr. Anderson and the other four teenagers and their family are now speaking out about what happened.
The confrontation began after officers on foot patrol approached a large group of people vaping, which is a violation of a local ordinance prohibiting smoking or vaping outside of the designated areas on the Boardwalk, according to a statement from Ocean City officials.
Mr. Anderson and his friends told ABC News that he stopped vaping but kept the pen in his hand as they continued walking. Police reported that they returned when they saw a member of the group vape again.
Jahtique John Lewis, 18, who was a part of the group, told ABC News that they noticed they were being followed by the officers who “kept harassing us.” He asked what was the problem, and they told him, “Tell your boy to put his pen away.” Next thing he knew, his friend was on the floor.
Police said in a news release that officers approached the group again and asked Mr. Anderson to provide identification, but the teen refused, “became disorderly” and resisted arrest.
Mr. John Lewis was taken into custody June 12 after allegedly lifting up a police bicycle, assaulting a public safety aid and resisting arrest, according to police. Police also say another member of the group, Kamere Day, 19, allegedly refused to comply with orders, continued yelling profanities and resisted arrest. Then there was 19-year-old Khalil Warren, who was allegedly standing on private property that had two “no trespassing” signs.
When the officers ordered him to leave, he was also said to have become “disorderly” and resisted arrest. The last member of the group, 19-year-old Gage Patterson, allegedly charged at police officers as they were attempting to make an arrest, and he was shocked with a taser and arrested, according to a statement from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.
Mr. Day told ABC News that he and his friends were just scared at the time and didn’t know what else to do, because they were attacked for no reason.
“Brian was in the middle of this circle getting abused by a cop. We were just trying our best to like help him in any way,” he told reporters. “We don’t know what could happen to him. In these times, you never know what could happen to people like us.
“I could have been killed,” he added.
Mr. Anderson, Mr. John Lewis, Mr. Day and Mr. Warren, all from Harrisburg, Pa., were charged and brought before a Maryland district court commissioner. They were released on their own recognizance, according to police.
ABC News reported that Mr. Patterson, who is from Middletown, Pa., was transported to the Ocean City Police Department and released on criminal citations pending trial. He was charged with failure to obey a lawful order and disorderly conduct, according to the sheriff’s office.
Lori Day, Mr. Day’s grandmother, was upset over the video of Mr. Anderson. “Go watch the video. It’s ridiculous. They drag him across the floor like he’s some kind of dog. All that for a vape pen?” she told The Baltimore Sun. She said the boys were traumatized. Mr. Anderson’s mother told The Baltimore Sun that he was having X-rays to determine the extent of his injuries.
About a week before the incident, on June 6, another Black teen in Ocean City, 18-year-old Taizier A. Griffin from Perryville, Md., was approached about vaping, tased and charged with resisting arrest, assault and disorderly conduct.
“Something completely menial turned into violating my child, treating him like he was an animal,” Mr. Griffin’s mother, Jessica Barber, told NBC’s “The Today Show.”
According to charging documents, police tased the teenager after he threatened to kill them. Video of the encounter shows Mr. Griffin 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.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill retweeted the video of the June 6 incident and called on Attorney General Brian Frosh to investigate. Mr. 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 June 14 statement, Ocean City police said they understand the public’s concern over the video of the June 12 incident, and it is under review.
Retired police captain and use of force expert Ashley Heiberger told The Baltimore Sun that it would be pretty difficult to justify the level of force displayed in both incidents.
“There are certainly times when a knee strike is an appropriate tactic,” he said. “Looking only at what we saw on the video, when the one person was on the ground and the person was delivering knee strikes, I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to articulate a level of threat or resistance to justify those knee strikes.”
He also said there did not appear to be any reason to use a Taser in the June 6 incident.
“Typically, the taser is a level of force that requires a high threat level or resistance, and it didn’t look like we saw that from this video,” he said.
Mr. Anderson told ABC News that he has received a lot of support from his family but that they are heartbroken after watching the footage.
“They’re just glad that I came out alive,” he said.
Maryland’s NAACP and other groups held a rally on June 16 and opened an investigation into the June 12 incident. Activists are demanding the charges be dropped and the officers involved be identified and suspended.
“The question before our policymakers, the question before law enforcement is whether or not this is going to be a long, hot summer of relief from the pandemic, or if this is going to be a long, hot summer of police violence and public protest,” said Rev. Kobi Little of the Baltimore NAACP. “We will not be silent.”
(AP contributed to this report)