When Brian Anderson wakes in the morning, it all rushes through his head again.
The feeling to gasp for breath beneath the officers. The force of the cop’s knee driving into his ribs. The panic that he might die.
“I don’t know how me or my family will fully recover from this,” said Anderson, tears welling in his eyes.
The 19-year-old from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, appeared with his lawyers Tuesday outside Baltimore’s federal courthouse to demand accountability of Ocean City police. Prominent Baltimore attorney William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. has taken on the teen’s case.
Murphy’s firm also represents Taizier Griffin, 18, of Cecil County. The recent high school graduate was shot with a Taser on the boardwalk three weeks ago.
In both incidents, officers approached the teens over vaping, but the encounters escalated. Their violent arrests were recorded by onlookers with cellphones and shared widely online.
“I watched in total fear as the Ocean City police and boardwalk patrol officers manhandled my brother simply because he was using a vape,” Tayvin Griffin, Taizier’s younger brother, told reporters outside the courthouse.
Murphy, who won a $6.4 million settlement for the family of Freddie Gray, whose death from injuries sustained in Baltimore police custody sparked the city’s unrest in 2015, said he’s sent Ocean City notice that he intends to sue. He called for the charges to be dismissed against the two teens. He also wants the police officers to be suspended without pay and investigated for criminal charges such as assault.
“This is a situation that should have been de-escalated and instead they escalated it,” Murphy said.
The Murphy, Falcon & Murphy firm claims to have won more than $75 million in police misconduct cases around the country.
No lawsuit has been filed yet.
“We don’t file anything until we have completed our own thorough investigation,” Murphy told everyone.
Ocean City Police spokeswoman Ashley Miller said she was aware of the news conference but declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation by the department into the officers’ conduct.
Police arrested Griffin June 6 and Anderson June 12, charging the teens with a series of crimes such as failure to show identification, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and second-degree assault.
Their families expressed outrage over the way police handled the arrests. Ocean City Police said they approached the teens because they were smoking or vaping outside the designated area, an infraction that typically brings a citation and fine.
In charging documents, Officer Michael Jupiter wrote that he gave Anderson one warning about vaping on the boardwalk, but the teen ignored him. He wrote that he asked the teen for his identification at least four times before attempting to arrest him.
“I then observed Anderson place his hands in front of him towards [Officer] Stoltzfus with closed fists. I believed this to be a fighting stance,” Jupiter wrote. “Anderson began to actively resist arrest by pulling away.”
The video begins with the officers on top of Anderson on the ground and shouting at him to give up his hands. One officer rams his knee repeatedly into Anderson’s ribs.
In the second video, Griffin holds his hands in the air, reaches for a backpack strap, and he’s immediately shot with a Taser.
The videos ignited a firestorm of criticism against Ocean City police.
“The officers instructed Taiz to try and take off his backpack. But when he tried to do that, they shot him anyway,” his brother said.
Griffin himself did not speak.
Democratic state Sen. Jill P. Carter of Baltimore, co-counsel for the teens, stood with them and called the officers’ actions “grossly inappropriate.” She said the cops flouted the police reform bills passed this year by the General Assembly. The lawmakers passed sweeping measures, such as changes to the legal justification for officers to use force and requirements that all cops wear body cameras, but many provisions have not yet taken effect.
Carter said lawmakers should consider implementing measures sooner. In an open letter last week, the Maryland Public Defender’s Office called for Ocean City to equip all its officers with body-worn cameras to ensure accountability.
Meanwhile, in Griffin’s hometown of Perryville, neighborhood activists have been protesting over his case.
“This is a moral issue,” said the Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore NAACP, outside the courthouse. “We must as a community and a state stand together against police violence.”
Ocean City’s mayor and police chief have declined to take questions about the arrests.
The boardwalk videos come amid continuing outcry over the way police encounter Black men in America. Urban communities such as Baltimore have taken measures to scale back these fraught encounters. Ocean City police have toughened up enforcement on the boardwalk in recent seasons.
During a meeting last week of the City Council, Chief Ross Buzzuro spoke of deploying more officers on the boardwalk because of increased crime including more arrests of people carrying guns and knives.