Videos of Ocean City, Maryland police officers beating and tasing Black teenagers for vaping on the boardwalk sparked outrage this past summer.
Yes, if you haven’t already, add “Vaping While Black” to the list of things that can make you a victim of police brutality.
The trial for one teen, Taizier Griffin, began on Monday with conflicting testimonies from officers and witnesses.
According to testimony from officers Corwin Vincent and Joseph Laughlin, the use of force was necessary to end the June 8 confrontation with Griffin who was celebrating his high school graduation. The Washington Post reports that the officers said Griffin was violating a town ordinance that prohibited vaping on the boardwalk when they approached him. Griffin pushed past the raised arm of a police officer, which they considered an assault.
Officer Vincent reports that even though he grabbed the back of the teen’s shirt, Griffin kept walking, refusing to identify himself or comply with orders. Vincent also testified that Griffin threatened to kill the officers.
None of this was caught on camera, of course. However, what could be seen was Griffin with his hands up and then Officer Laughlin deploying his taser when Griffin reached for his backpack strap. One witness said that Griffin probably reached for the strap to comply with the officer’s orders to remove his backpack.
From the Post:
Griffin’s friend Cori Ewing, 18, filmed the video. A lawyer for Griffin asked whether the officers’ accounts had been accurate.
“Not at all,” she testified.
Ewing said that when Vincent first approached Griffin he grabbed the teen by the arm and said, “No vaping on the boardwalk.”
“He was not aware really of the officers coming toward him,” she said. “Somebody comes up and grabs you, you’re going to jump. You don’t know who’s grabbing you. It’s a natural reaction.”
She said other officers converged quickly.
“All the officers were running up around him,” Ewing said. “There wasn’t much time in between, and then they were all yelling … There was like so many commands going at once.”
She said the officers were yelling for Griffin to remove his backpack and get on the ground. She said the officers hadn’t asked Griffin to identify himself. She testified that no more than 20 seconds passed between when officers approached Griffin and when he was shot with the Taser.
Griffin’s lawyers asked three of his other companions whether they agreed with Ewing. All said they did.
After hearing from the final witness, presiding Judge W. Newton Jackson postponed the remainder of the trial until January. The closing arguments by both the defense and prosecution will be given then.
Griffin was charged with 8 counts including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest carrying a concealed weapon and assault. A fixed blade knife was found during a later search of Griffin’s backpack.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Griffin’s defense attorneys said that the town ordinance does not require the person to provide an identification card, only to identify who they are and that the charge for failure to produce proper identification isn’t warranted.
The two officers couldn’t even get on the same page during the defense’s questioning about what was really the most dangerous moment of the altercation.
From the Sun:
But, under questioning by Ruff, the two officers also contradicted each other on which action would be considered more dangerous: Griffin’s alleged pushing of Vincent or Laughlin’s tasing of Griffin.
Vincent contended that “walking through the arm is more dangerous.”
Ruff tried making the point that the threat Griffin presented did not warrant officers’ escalated response, but Vincent held firm that Griffin still remained a threat to officers.
Laughlin, however, conceded that the taser could cause far greater injury, even death, and is more dangerous than pushing through someone’s arm.
According to the Sun, there is an upcoming trial for another Black teen caught in one of the videos, Brian Anderson, who was arrested six days after Griffin. Officers stopped Anderson and his group of friends for allegedly vaping on the boardwalk.
A cellphone video captured four or five white officers on top of Anderson who was on the ground and yelling “I’m not resisting!” and “Can you tell me what you arresting me for?” One officer was seen kneeing the teen. Anderson was charged with four counts including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and second-degree assault. His trial was also postponed to January 5.