BALTIMORE — Police arrested more than 100 people during an unauthorized motor rally in Ocean City this weekend. Videos filmed at the scene show angry encounters between officers and throngs of attendees.
Officers from neighboring jurisdictions came to assist Ocean City Police with crowd control at the rally, known by participants as H2oi. They included the Worcester County Sheriff, Maryland State Police, Wicomico County Sheriff, Queen Anne’s County Sheriff, Maryland Transportation Authority Police and Maryland Natural Resources Police.
More than 100 people were arrested and charged with criminal and traffic offenses, the police department said in a Sunday morning news release.
Such aggressive enforcement comes at a time when many Americans are criticizing heavy-handed police tactics and making calls to “defund the police.” The event also came as health officials continue to stress the importance of social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“This is not a car show and the majority of these visitors are not car enthusiasts,” Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said in a statement. “They are here to disrupt, destroy and disrespect our community and our law enforcement officers. Our policing philosophy is to be friendly, fair and firm. Unfortunately, the disorderly behavior and unruly crowds left no choice but to shift our philosophy and take additional steps to protect our officers and our community.”
Joseph Davis, 17, of Delaware, was one of about 40 people standing on the median taking photos of the drivers when officers with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police began shouting to clear the area.
As the crowd moved to the sidewalk, an officer grabbed a man walking in the crosswalk, said Davis. “I didn’t like what was happening so I started recording,” he said.
In Davis’ video, the officer is seen roughly forcing the man to the ground. A spokeswoman for the Maryland Natural Resource Police department said the man was arrested for disorderly conduct and that police are “gathering more information” about whether the officer was following protocol.
The contentious scene was capped off by a Davis claiming to be arrested after he said he shouted profanities at officers.
Another video depicts officers tackling one person in the middle of the road, before another individual then jumps on top of the officers. The second person is then tackled by police. Crowd members begin to film the scene and one calls out “police brutality.” Others taunt and scream at officers.
In the same video, officers are seen spraying a “nasal nuisance spray” at crowd members to disperse them. According to Ocean City police spokeswoman Ashley Miller, the spray emits a skunk-like odor that “naturally fades eventually.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan vowed to end the event, previously saying it’s placed the town “under siege and in danger.” To deter people from coming, legislators created a “Special Event Zone” in Ocean City, allowing the town to reduce speed limits and step up fines and penalties. They include $1,000 fines for infractions like racing, skidding and wheel spinning.
Nevertheless, many car enthusiasts still flocked to town for the weekend, choking roads and causing backups.
City officials suspended transportation services Saturday evening out of “an abundance of caution for our employees.”
The official H2Oi event relocated to Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 2018. Ocean City officials call the group of car enthusiasts that still comes to town each September “a self-driven group that communicates primarily through social media.”
This is now the second consecutive year Ocean City has called in additional law enforcement agencies to help quell the unofficial event.
Last year, the Ocean City Police Department received assistance from several of the same agencies they did this year as police said two people were injured after being struck by a BMW and an officer was struck by a rock in an exchange with a large crowd where pepper spray was used.
The Eastern Shore resort town is home to a number of large-scale social events and car shows from April through September, including the upcoming “Endless Summer Cruisin” car show in October and Senior Week, where recent high school graduates throughout the state converge on the town in late May or early June.
During Senior Week this year, the Ocean City Police Department announced 129 arrests from June 11 through June 14.
Baltimore Sun reporters Talia Richman and Phil Davis contributed to this article.
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