OCEAN CITY – Civil rights activists gathered in front of Worcester County District Court on Monday as court cases against the men arrested on the Boardwalk this summer in separate vaping incidents were postponed.
The trials in Worcester County District Court in Ocean City for Taizier Griffin, 19, of Perryville, Md., and Brian Anderson, 19, of Harrisburg, Pa., were to begin Monday. Griffin and Anderson were charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, failure to provide identification and second degree assault. Both cases were postponed this week with a new date set for Jan. 5.
Outside of court Monday, representatives with the Caucus of African American Leaders (CAAL), NAACP branches and other civil rights groups joined together in support of four men involved in separate vaping incidents on the Boardwalk earlier this year. They were Griffin, Anderson, Jatique John Lewis and Kamere Anthony Day.
“People are beginning to look at what happens in our criminal justice system,” CAAL convener Carl Snowden said in a press conference Monday. “Last week, we saw the decision that was made in Wisconsin, the nation is anxiously awaiting the decision that will be made in Georgia, and we today are awaiting a decision to be made here in Maryland.”
In the two June cases, attempts to issue citations for vaping on the Boardwalk ended with physical confrontations between Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers and the suspects. In one instance, cellphone video shows one of the suspects being kneed repeatedly by a police officer. In another, Griffin is seen being Tased by an officer.
The individuals involved were arrested and charged with various offenses, including assault, failure to obey a lawful order, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. And in the days that followed, snippets of those incidents went viral on social media, prompting calls for an investigation.
In July, a coalition of state and local leaders led a Freedom Bus tour of the Eastern Shore, which ended with a rally in front of City Hall to peacefully protest the police officers’ actions against the four men.
Back in Ocean City this week, Freedom Bus riders say their work is not finished, as they plan to hold meetings with local law enforcement in the months to come.
“We expect to come back on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, working to address issues of systemic racism in the Maryland justice system …,” Snowden said. “We’ll be meeting with the state’s attorney’s office, as well as the police departments … including Ocean City.”
Snowden also announced the CAAL would be forming a local chapter – led by the Rev. Jay Jones – to work with communities across the Eastern Shore.
“The standing we will make is enough is enough,” Jones said this week. “We do not believe what has happened in this particular case warrants the physical treatment and abuse that these young men have absorbed. And we will stand, even when others don’t understand, until we prove that point.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan has stated both June incidents were subject to a multi-level internal review, which determined that both force issues “were reasonable by professional standards and that the officers’ actions were within the scope of OCPD policy.”
In October, it was also announced an FBI inquiry into the police officers’ handling of the incidents resulted in no civil rights violations being found, confirming the police department’s own internal investigation.
“The FBI did conduct an inquiry into the two use force cases that occurred in early June 2021,” Meehan wrote in a letter dated Sept. 17. “We have recently learned that the FBI determined neither case rose to the level of a Federal Civil Rights Violation and that its inquiry is now closed.”
Snowden said this week his disagreed with the findings. He noted the CAAL has filed a Freedom of Information Act request, seeking access to documents from the investigation.
“One of the things I want to make clear, I’ve talked to defense attorneys and none of the young men were ever interviewed by the FBI …,” he said. “We find it difficult to believe the FBI conducted an investigation and then concluded there were no civil rights violations without talking to the victims of those civil rights violations.”
Monday’s press conference featured comments from several civil rights groups across the state.
The only suspect to have his case adjudicated in the June incidents has been Day, 20, of Harrisburg, Pa. In the Nov. 3 trial, Day pleaded not guilty to resisting/interfere with arrest. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.