OCEAN CITY — Three of the four suspects arrested in July following a melee on the beach in Ocean City with police were found guilty this week of assault and other charges and received jail time for their roles during the incident while a fourth was fined and placed on probation.
Trials resumed on Wednesday for the four suspects involved in the incident, including three men and one woman, who was nine months pregnant at the time and ultimately needed an emergency C-section after being tackled to the ground during the fracas. The state presented its case against the defendants in November, but in a somewhat unusual break from routine, the case was continued until this week to allow the defense to prepare its witnesses.
After hours of testimony in District Court in Ocean City on Wednesday, one of the suspects, Abdul Kargbo, 25, of Woodbridge, Va., was found guilty of disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. His brother, Saidu Kargbo, 21, of Woodbridge, was found guilty of second-degree assault and was fined $500 and placed on unsupervised probation for one year. Dalima Palmer, who was nine months pregnant at the time of the incident, was found guilty of second-degree assault and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Her fiancé and father of her six-month old baby, Musa Seisay, 25, of Garrisonville, Md., was also found guilty of second-degree assault and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Around 2:30 p.m. on July 21, 2013, Ocean City police responded to the beach at North Division Street for a reported group of disorderly males. The request for assistance came from an Ocean City Beach Patrol lifeguard, who told police he approached the group to speak with them about playing soccer on the crowded beach, at which time one of the suspects allegedly threatened him. During the first phase of the trial in November, one of the state’s witnesses testified he overheard someone threaten to kill the guard, which resulted in the rapid police response.
When OCPD officers attempted to speak with Abdul Kargbo, he allegedly began cursing and yelling at the officers and attempted to leave the scene. As officers attempted to arrest Kargbo, several other members in the group began to yell at police and act in a threatening manner, according to police reports and testimony during the state’s case in November.
What happened next, according to police reports and witnesses on the beach, was a pushing and shoving match between the suspects and police, including punches thrown, as officers attempted to detain the combatants. By that time, a large crowd had gathered, causing additional officers to respond to the scene. However, the defense witnesses called on Wednesday painted a different picture of the events leading up to the incident, calling the lifeguard and ultimately the OCPD officers as the aggressors during the confrontation.
According to police reports and testimony in November, Seisay and Saidu Kargbo allegedly assaulted officers and resisted arrest. Palmer was also involved in the fray and allegedly verbally and physically abused the arresting officers. During the struggle, Palmer was wrestled to the beach by OCPD officers and an attempt was made to handcuff her. She was eventually taken into custody and transported to the Public Safety Building for processing.
During Palmer’s processing on charges of assault and reckless endangerment, she began to experience labor pains and she was transported to the hospital where she had an emergency C-section. Palmer was formally charged days later after the birth of her child with assault, resisting arrest, obstructing and hindering and disorderly conduct.
Two days after the incident, the suspects’ family and friends told a Washington, D.C. area TV news station the Ocean City police account of the incident was false and the group was not being disruptive on the beach. Instead, the suspects’ version claimed the incident was veiled in hints of racism and profiling. A cell phone video of a portion of the incident clearly shows it escalating from a shouting match between the defendants and police to a physical confrontation with the pregnant Palmer right in the middle of the fray.
The video, which was shown again during the trial on Wednesday, went viral almost immediately and police officers were criticized in many circles for the alleged excessive force used on the pregnant Palmer. From the beginning, however, OCPD officials stood by the actions of the officers under the circumstances.
With the state’s case completed in November, the trial resumed on Wednesday in Ocean City with the defense presenting its version of the events. Defense attorneys Cullen Burke, who represented the Kargbo brothers, and Bruce Johnson, who represented Palmer and Seisay, presented a line-up of witnesses that reported a different version of the events leading up to and during the incident.
For example, defense witness Mabinty Quarshie told District Court Judge Danny Mumford the defendants and a large group of friends arrived on the beach and some of the males in the group started playing soccer near the water’s edge. Another group of unrelated individuals were playing football in roughly the same area, according to testimony. Quarshie said the lifeguard approached the group about playing soccer on the crowded beach, but did so in such a way as to appear confrontational.
“The boys had an interaction with the lifeguard and I heard the lifeguard screaming and yelling at them,” she said. “He was very aggressive and confrontational and it made me uncomfortable. He was using profanity and he asked them ‘are you drunk?’ and ‘are you [expletive deleted] retarded?”
Quarshie said the group didn’t realize they weren’t allowed to play soccer in that area of the crowded beach and stopped. The lifeguard returned to his stand and signaled for help from the police to intercede in the incident. She said the police arrived and immediately began harassing the group.
“I saw Adbul [Kargbo] walking away and I saw officers tackling my friends,” she said. “I watched Dalima [Palmer] get tackled to the ground by an officer twice her size and she was obviously visibly pregnant. She was just trying to ask questions. She was not doing anything wrong and was no threat to the officers. I never saw her come into physical contact with the officers.”
Another defense witness, Abdul Kamara, who was responsible for the cell phone video of the incident, agreed the group was not aware of the rules on the beach.
“We thought it was okay to play soccer,” he said. “There was another group of guys nearby throwing a football.”
Kamara testified on Wednesday Abdul Kargbo was simply honoring the officers’ orders for him to either calm down or leave the beach.
“They said if Adbul did not calm down, he was going to be asked to leave the beach,” he said. “He was leaving voluntarily. He basically said ‘okay, fine, I’m leaving the beach’ but the officers continued to follow him and eventually tackled him. I never saw Abdul smack an officer’s hand. As he was walking away, no officer ever said ‘stop’ or ‘you’re under arrest’.”
Burke said his client, Saidu Kargbo, did not assault an OCPD officer and his only concern during the incident was the well-being of his pregnant girlfriend.
“Saidu allegedly assaulted an officer, yet here he is lying on the beach with an officer on top of him and all he can think to do is ask Dalima Palmer if she is okay,” he said.
Another witness for the defense, Alim Seisay, corroborated the version of the story with the lifeguard as the initial aggressors.
“They asked us if we were drunk or stupid or [expletive deleted] retarded,” he said. “They didn’t have to approach us like that. All they had to do is just tell us we couldn’t play soccer. Nobody was upset at that point. I don’t even know why the police came.”
Alim Seisay said the group was merely asking for an explanation and had agreed to stop playing soccer when the incident was escalated by the police.
“Musa tried to talk to the police and the next thing I know he was face down on the beach,” he said. “Dalima walked from the umbrella toward the officers with her hands up and questioning what was going on. I did not see her threaten or harm the officers in any way. Everybody on the beach was yelling that she was pregnant.”