Two Charged With Inciting Crowds During Pop-Up Rally

OCEAN CITY — A pair of north-end coffee shop owners face multiple charges after allegedly offering their business as a safe haven for illicit activity during the pop-up car rally in late September.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, numerous Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers and their allied partners were assigned to a traffic enforcement detail for the pop-up car rally. An OCPD officer assigned to the old 94th Street shopping plaza learned a coffee shop on the property had been posting on social media its parking lot was available as a safe haven for pop-up car rally participants for violations such as spinning tires and burnouts.

At the time, the OCPD officer was not aware Maath Salem, 46, of Berlin, and Rana Salem, 40, also of Berlin, were the owners of the coffee shop, according to police reports.

According to police reports, when officers arrived at 94th Street, there were at least 1,000 people cheering and chanting expletives at the police. The lot is owned by a management company that had provided two security guards during the pop-up event. On Friday, the security guards had called law enforcement because they were getting overwhelmed and needed support. The same situation unfolded the next day on Saturday, September 26 as the private security staff called police for help several times, according to police reports.

Upon arrival on September 26th, OCPD officers observed what they at first believed was a fire, according to police reports. Upon closer inspection, however, the officers reportedly observed about dozen cars spinning wheels in a circular movement commonly referred to as doing donuts. Most of the activity was directly in front of the coffee shop in the shopping center parking lot.

According to police reports, no security staff was observed, nor were any representatives of the coffee shop attempting to stop the behavior and the destruction of that section of the parking lot. According to police reports, the vehicles’ actions were taking place within inches of the crowd of bystanders and any point, a driver could have lost control and struck potentially hundreds of people.

At the direction of command staff, at least eight law enforcement officers were instructed to attempt to stop the dangerous and illicit behavior. Some law enforcement officers positioned their vehicles at the parking lot’s access points to facilitate a safe and easy exit plan for participants, while others made their way through the crowds on foot.

One OCPD officer had positioned his vehicle at one of the access points to the parking lot along 94th Street. While the officer was standing near his vehicle and facilitating the exit of the vehicle involved, a white Mercedes accelerated toward him before coming to an abrupt stop. The officer recognized the driver as Maath Salem, the owner of the coffee shop, according to police reports.

Maath Salem reportedly rolled down his window and told the OCPD officer to get off his property, and that he didn’t want the police on his property. According to police reports, the officer explained law enforcement was simply trying to diffuse a dangerous situation, particularly in the area of Salem’s business, but Maath Salem allegedly continued his expletive-laced tirade at the officer.

Maath Salem had allegedly stopped his vehicle in the middle of 94th Street during the tirade and by now, vehicles were stacking up behind it and unable to pass. Another OCPD officer was stationed at another entrance to the shopping center parking lot when Maath Salem reportedly got in his vehicle and speeded toward the officer’s vehicle, nearly hitting it, according to police reports.

Maath Salem reportedly screamed at the top of his lungs at the officer and advised her that he was the owner of the coffee house and that he needed to get into his business. Maath Salem reportedly got into the officer’s face and demanded she let him into the parking lot and allow other vehicles to do the same. Maath Salem reportedly continued to scream at the officer and demanded a supervisor.

It took about 20 minutes for the OCPD supervisor to work his way through the growing crowd to meet with Salem. During that time, Maath Salem reportedly continued to scream in the female officer’s face and demand that she and other officers reopen the parking lot. Meanwhile, the crowd was growing and becoming more active and incensed based on Maath Salem’s action.

Other OCPD officers were stationed at the entrance to the shopping center parking lot at 94th Street and were facilitating the towing of certain vehicles from the roadway for being unsafe when Rana Salem reportedly emerged from the crowd. According to police reports, Rana Salem launched expletives at the officers and the private tow company operators, screaming they were not allowed to do that.

Over the course of the incident, six arrests were made for disorderly conduct. The investigating officers determined Maath and Rana Salem, owners of the coffee shop, also acted disorderly, disobeyed lawful orders, hindered law enforcement and incited the crowd. Maath Salem was charged in November and Rana Salem was charged this month.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.