Jessica Barber said that when she saw video of her 18-year-old son, Taizier Griffin, being tased by Ocean City, Maryland, police officers, her heart dropped.
“I always told my children you do what the police say — put your hands up and that’s a sign of surrender,” Barber told CNN.
“In this situation that did not help.”
Griffin, along with his younger brother and a group of friends, had traveled to Ocean City to celebrate his graduation from high school, according to Barber.
She said she learned what happened when her other son called her, frantic, around 6:30 p.m. on June 6. Then she was sent video by one of her son’s friends which showed Griffin being tased by Ocean City police.
Cori Ewig, one of Griffin’s friends, confirmed to CNN she took the video.
“I felt helpless,” Barber told CNN, noting that she was over two and half hours away. “I told my younger one just stay back from it, I don’t need both of you in this situation.”
Barber said her sons and their friends told her the incident began when Griffin used a tobacco vape, and was confronted by an Ocean City police officer on a bicycle. The officer told him he couldn’t use the vape on the boardwalk, Barber said she was told, adding that the officer told him to put it back in his pocket.
Ewig gave a similar account to CNN in an earlier interview.
Over the course of about 10 seconds, her sons and their friends told Barber, the officer began to grab Griffin’s arm. Then other officers arrived and tasers were drawn.
Ewig said police grabbed Griffin’s shirt at which point he pulled away, backed up and put his hands up.
“In no way, shape, or form, was he any type of threat to them,” Ewig said, “there was one of him and six of them.”
In a Facebook post, the Ocean City Police Department said that an unnamed 18-year-old — Barber confirmed it is her son Taizier Griffin — was stopped “because he was violating the city smoking ordinance,” and that officers tased him after “he became disorderly and began yelling at officers and threatening to kill them.”
“Everyone was confused why (the officer) was grabbing him,” Barber said, recounting what eyewitnesses told her.
“He was never asked for his ID.”
The eyewitness video only shows a portion of what happened prior to the taser being deployed.
The video does show Griffin with his hands up, but as officers are screaming at Griffin to “get down,” he moves his left arm back toward the shoulder strap of his book bag. At that point, an officer fires the taser and Griffin falls to the ground.
Ewig told CNN that before she began recording the incident, police yelled at Griffin to take his book bag off and get on the ground. She said Griffin was attempting to take off his book bag when police tased him.
Barber claims that her son began resisting and yelling only after he was tased. In the statement on Facebook, Ocean City Police say, ‘he continued to make threats,” and once officers deployed their tasers, “(Griffin) continued to make threats on officers, spit on them and resist arrest.”
Afterward, Ocean City officers are seen on video carrying Griffin, who appears to be bound by his ankles and wrists — they also removed his socks and shoes.
In the Facebook post, Ocean City police said officers found a fixed-blade knife in Griffin’s book bag and that he was arrested for assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Barber said it took about 24 hours for Griffin to be released from jail. He made an initial appearance before a judge and was released on a $3,000 bond.
The day after the arrest, Barber said she tried to talk with an Ocean City police supervisor to “try to understand this is the way you guys handle a simple vape situation.” But she said she was prevented from entering the police barracks to speak with someone.
She said she’s kept the videos and information private since June 6, but was moved to publicize it after a similar incident this past weekend involving the Ocean City Police Department.
Police say uses of force subject to ‘detailed review’
Police spokesperson Ashley Miller told CNN the department would look into Barber being denied the opportunity to speak to a supervisor on June 7. Miller also said that the police department does not have body cameras or microphones at this time.
The town of Ocean City told CNN in a statement that officers are permitted — and trained — to use force, “to overcome exhibited resistance.”
“All uses of force go through a detailed review process,” the statement said.
“The uses of force from these arrests will go through a multi-level examination by the Assistant Patrol Commander, the Division Commander and then by the Office of Professional Standards.”
Griffin’s next court appearance, according to Barber, is on July 28 in Ocean City District Court.
His mother said she’s proud of him for putting his hands up because it’s what she’s taught all her children to do when confronted by police.
“My children being of color, I’ve always had those conversations with them,” she said, noting that even her youngest, who is 9 years old, has had “the talk.”
“But it didn’t matter,” she said.