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Parents of men arrested by Ocean City police on viral video say officers escalated a simple interaction

A cellphone video part of the encounter, and shows officers holding one man down on the ground, and then one kneeing the man several times.

HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA — Lori Day keeps close watch of her 16 grandchildren. She doesn’t let them out after dark from their home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Not one of them, she says proudly, has been in trouble with the law.

Even with all the fraught confrontations between police and young Black men in America, she teaches her grandsons to respect the cops. Now she’s fuming to see the cellphone video circulate of officers in Ocean City violently arresting her 19-year-old grandson, Kamere Day, a freshman sprinter on the track and field team at Penn State University.

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“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 says

Sitting on the porch Tuesday of her Harrisburg home, her voice rises with anger and frustration.

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“It didn’t even have to escalate,” she says. “These boys are traumatized.”

Cellphone videos captured the arrest of Day and three other Harrisburg teens Saturday in Ocean City, drawing sharp criticism of the beach police department. Ocean City Police said they approached the teens because they were smoking or vaping outside the designated areas, but the scene escalated with officers pinning the boys to the ground. In one video, a police officer rams his knee repeatedly into the side of one of the teens.

The young man, Brian Anderson, was having X-rays Tuesday to determine the extent of his injuries, his mother told The Baltimore Sun.

Just like scores of teens across Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania, they had loaded up their cars and headed for the beach last week in the annual rite of passage that is Senior Week. Back home in Harrisburg, the signs in their front yards say “Congratulations Class of 2021.”

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Parked out front of the home of Jahtique John Lewis was the used car his parents bought him as a high school graduation gift. His father, Robert John Lewis, said it would help him start out life as an adult. Now, his son is facing five charges.

“How you going to start out with five charges?” his father said. “We worked so hard.”

In a statement, Ocean City police said Lewis, Anderson, Day and a fourth man, Khalil Warren, 19 resisted arrest, refused to follow lawful commands and yelled obscenities at the officers as a large crowd of onlookers gathered.

“We are aware of the social media videos circulating regarding this incident. Our officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance,” the statement said. “All uses of force go through a detailed review process.”

An Ocean City spokeswoman did not respond to additional requests for comment on Tuesday, and did not release the identity of the officers involved in the arrest or say if they are suspended.

Parents of the accused men talked about their pain and frustration to see their sons wrestled to the ground and arrested — all of it stemming from the offense of vaping, which usually brings a citation and fine.

The Ocean City videos have become the latest flashpoint amid the continued debate over use of force by police and how officers confront young Black men in America.

The grandmother Day, for one, wants answers.

“Why did you touch him?” she says. “All you had to do was write a citation.”

Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday joined other lawmakers calling the footage “disturbing” but said he is waiting for additional information before making additional comments.

“We reached out, had conversations with both the mayor of Ocean City, and our state police have reached out to the Ocean City police,” Hogan said. “We’re just anxious to get the initial investigation conducted so we can have all the facts before making any further statements about it.”

Police Chief Ross C. Buzzuro, who left the Baltimore Police Department and became Ocean City’s police chief in 2013, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Ocean City has 100 full-time officers and 100 seasonal officers, according to its website.

The incident follows a June 6 arrest of an 18-year-old man, Taizier A. Griffin, in Ocean City after police approached him about vaping on the boardwalk. An officer Tasered the Perryville man and charged him with resisting arrest and other offenses. That arrest circulated widely on video.

Griffin’s family went on national television Tuesday to speak out against the officers’ actions.

“Something completely menial turned into violating my child, treating him like he was an animal,” Griffin’s mother, Jessica Barber, told “The Today Show” on NBC.

The video circulating on social media appeared to show Griffin had his hands up as he was Tasered.

In a statement, Ocean City police said Griffin threatened to kill officers who confronted him.

“When stopped, he became disorderly and began yelling at officers and threatening to kill them. At that time, officers drew their Conducted Electrical Weapons,” the statement said. “He continued to make threats on officers, spit on them and resist arrest. Officers also located a fixed blade knife in his bookbag. He was arrested for multiple charges, including assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.”

Retired police captain and use of force expert Ashley Heiberger said, after watching the videos, it would be “pretty difficult” to justify the level of force displayed in both incidents.

Heiberger, who retired from the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Police Department after 21 years, warned about the limitations of video, emphasizing that it’s difficult to know exactly what transpired before cameras started rolling.

However, he said that an officer’s response to resistance needs to be “reasonable.””

“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.”

Heiberger, while emphasizing that the video may not tell the complete story, said there did not appear to be any reason to use a Taser device 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.

The videos come months after the Maryland legislature passed multiple policing reforms, including a new statewide standard for when officers can use force.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Phil Davis contributed to this story.

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