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Ocean City officials defend large-scale police response to ‘H20i’ car rally: ‘Ugly at times ... but the plan worked’

Police arrested more than 100 people in Ocean City over the weekend during the unauthorized ‘H2oi’ car show.

Ocean City officials on Monday defended the beach town’s response to the unofficial “H2oi” car rally, which was marked by clashes between police and attendees, over 100 hundred arrests, and miles-long traffic backups on Coastal Highway this weekend.

Officials had lowered speed limits and increased fines in advance of the unsanctioned event, which brought crowds rivaling the Fourth of July weekend to the Eastern Shore resort town, Police Chief Ross C. Buzzuro said.

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Detours and a large-scale police response — several outside agencies helped disperse and arrest unruly crowds Saturday night — allowed officials to maintain control and keep Ocean City safe, Buzzuro and Mayor Rick Meehan said during a virtual news conference Monday about the weekend disturbances.

“We put a plan in place to make sure we could keep our town safe,” Meehan said. “The plan worked. I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t ugly at times. ... But the plan worked.”

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Videos of the incidents showed chaotic scenes in which police tackled and arrested people, while other people threw objects at and jumped on officers attempting to make arrests.

Some threw bottles and bricks at officers, Buzzuro said.

Police issued more than 3,500 citations, made nearly 2,500 traffic stops and ordered more than 350 cars towed and impounded over the course of the weekend, according to Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan joined the Ocean City officials in praising the responding officers from 16 different agencies.

“Our swift and unified response makes clear that we will not tolerate such brazen violence and wanton disrespect for our law enforcement officers, communities and law-abiding citizens,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

The aggressive police response Saturday drew criticism from some at a time when many Americans have been calling for less heavy-handed policing methods around the country.

Those arrested in Ocean City faced charges ranging from criminal to traffic offenses, officials said. Officials also said they were concerned about the risk of coronavirus transmission among the crowds.

The rally, H2oi, does not appear to have a centralized structure, leadership or spokespeople.

At least three law-enforcement officers were injured during weekend incidents, officials said.

One Ocean City officer was injured Friday, and another was hurt Saturday, Buzzuro confirmed. Both have been treated and released and are in good condition, the Ocean City police chief said.

A state trooper who was knocked unconscious while making an arrest over the weekend is home recovering after being treated at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Hogan said.

The disturbances prompted police to halt southbound traffic Saturday at 62nd Street, where the Ocean City Expressway/Route 90 — the central crossing to and from the island — meets the Coastal Highway.

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“It caused congestion, but it gave us the ability to further control our environment," Buzzuro said. “We realize this caused a degree of possibly consternation for visitors and residents, but it was necessary for us to maintain control of midtown and downtown.”

The car rally itself isn’t “crime-fueled” and contained “no crime in a traditional sense” and “very minimal amounts of destruction of property and assaultive behavior" over several days, Buzzuro said.

The measures taken by the town, and the arrests by police had the support of most local residents and business owners, who generally dislike the annual, unauthorized car rally, Meehan said. Officials will evaluate the measures taken over weekend and determine how best to discourage the event from taking place next year, the mayor said.

“If it didn’t take place [in the future], that would be fine with us,” Meehan said. “This event isn’t what Ocean City’s all about. I hope they got the message. I hope their parents are listening.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Christina Tkacik, Ulysses Muñoz and Phil Davis contributed to this article.

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