SURF CITY — Newly released documents from Surf City reveal what happened when what one resident called a ‘military mob’ took over a section of the beach last summer. They also show some evidence of the town’s attempt to handle the incidents quietly, along with a police crackdown on the issue.
Councilman Jeremy Shugarts sent an email in June claiming the town had offered special treatment to Marines who had been involved in drunk and disorderly conduct on the town’s beach. The email was part of public records first requested last October and delivered by the town’s attorney on New Year’s Eve.
“Minimal police involvement”
Shugarts wrote to Camp Lejeune Director of Government and External Relations Joe Ramirez on June 27, saying that a number of incidents involving “excessive intoxication, vomiting and urinating in public, and disorderly conduct” had occurred over the past few weekends.
“As the individuals involved identified themselves as Marines, we did our best to handle the situations at the lowest levels possible, with minimal police involvement,” Shugarts wrote to Ramirez.
Shugarts did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent Thursday and Friday, including a question of whether he provided any orders or suggestions to anyone in the Surf City Police Department to be lenient with Marines. In a Friday text message, he said that he was unable to respond because he was spending time with family visiting from Ohio.
Ramirez, Mayor Doug Medlin, and Town Manager Ashley Loftis also did not respond to questions concerning the town’s handling of the incidents, which according to a police report included a Marine “defecating herself” and a fight taking place on the beach.
Surf City Police Chief Ron Shanahan responded on Thursday. When asked if he was aware of any efforts to handle situations with Marines using minimal police involvement, Shanahan said in an email that there had been “absolutely” no special treatment afforded to Marines last summer.
“Our officers use their discretion as to what action they are going to take,” Shanahan said. “We treat them the same as any other citizen.”
He also said that “nobody from the Council nor town administration advised me on how to handle the situation.” Only Shugarts could interpret what he meant in his email to Ramirez, he said.
Responding to Shugarts’ email, Ramirez said that he was “disheartened” to hear of inappropriate misconduct among Marines in Surf City.
“Any misconduct is an affront to the standards of conduct that we hold dear for all military services,” Ramirez told Shugarts.
A “military mob” and beach patrol interns
On June 18, a Surf City resident sent an email to Mayor Medlin, councilmembers, and Chief Shanahan describing what she called a “military mob” on the beach in front of her home and neighbors’ homes roughly a thousand feet northeast of the town’s pier.
By early afternoon on the previous Saturday, June 15, she said that 75 to 100 military personnel had gathered in the area, noting that she and some neighbors confirmed they were military members by asking several of the gathered groups.
“[A]fter witnessing groups ‘shot-gunning’ cans of beer, walking around drinking straight liquor from bottles … we witnessed multiple young people throwing up in the sand and on towels, passing out on the sand, trying to swim and being knocked over by waves, passing out on homeowner stairways, urinating on stairways, climbing up and down dunes to get back and forth to [the] street or just for fun, entering decks of homes they were not staying in, showering under homes they were not staying in, and more,” the resident complained. “They were excessively loud, swearing and yelling … there was an abundance of littering.”
She also claimed that she saw a beach patrol unit pass through the area only two times and saw no police officers “anywhere near the mob” throughout the day. When she called a non-emergency police department number twice, both after 5 p.m., there was no answer, according to the resident.
“I wish that this were an isolated incidence, but unfortunately it is not,” she wrote.
The following day she asked a police officer and members of an EMS vehicle and a beach patrol vehicle what should be done to report similar cases of misconduct in the future.
“All three told me to call the Surf City non-emergency police line,” the resident wrote.
In response to her complaint, Chief Shanahan said that calls made to the non-emergency line after 5 p.m. should be transferred to a patrol unit, and if that unit is busy it should then be transferred to the county’s non-emergency line.
“I’m not sure why this didn’t occur,” Shanahan wrote. “Communication should have picked up.”
He also said the SCPD had enhanced its beach patrols with college interns in recent years, and although they couldn’t issue citations, they serve as “eyes and ears on the beach” and are tasked with calling a uniformed officer when they see this type of activity occurring. He urged the resident to call 911 when she saw similar cases of urinating in public, underage drinking, trespassing, littering, and individuals passing out.
“Most of these crimes are arrestable offenses,” he said.
Shanahan concluded by saying he would “saturate this area of the beach for the next few weekends” and request assistance from senior officers at Camp Lejeune.
The police officer who discussed the issue with the concerned resident the next day wrote a report of “the events surrounding the large group of Marines on the beach.” The report did not mention any citations or arrests made.
The officer, Corporal Eric Petersen, said he observed a few Marines assisting other Marines due to their intoxicated state.
“One female, assuming she was a Marine, was being assisted, but when the female Marine passed [by] it was evident that she had defecated herself,” Peterson said in the report.
Petersen gave water to a Marine who was dry heaving at the Goldsboro Avenue beach access, water given to him by an agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS), according to his report; it was not clear why the NCIS agent was there.
Petersen also discovered that a fight had occurred between a Marine and a student with Camp Lejeune’s Motor Transport Maintenance Instructional Company. The student had claimed to the Marine he was a staff sergeant, according to Petersen.
“Once verification that [the student] was not a Staff Sergeant was obtained, the suspect hit him in the area of his right jaw,” Petersen said.
He informed the NCIS agent, who stated that he would speak to Camp Lejeune commanders about the assault, according to Petersen.
North Carolina law states that it is unlawful to be intoxicated and disruptive in a public place by fighting, cursing, or shouting at others. It also says that no one should be prosecuted solely for being intoxicated in a public place.
Petersen then described his conversation with the concerned resident the following day. She told him that a member of her family “had to rescue a drowning Marine” and that she had not seen any law enforcement throughout the day.
“Cpl Petersen explained that he was out there Saturday evening and did observe the Marines and had handled the situations as they arose,” Petersen wrote in the report.
Petersen also said the concerned resident “never mentioned anything about Marines showering, trespassing, her speaking to EMS, swearing, being loud, giving the Marines water, clambering around accesses, or her belief that ‘public intoxication’ was a crime.”
“[She] only expressed her concern for the welfare of the Marines,” Petersen said. “She said she ‘only wanted to know how to get help for these kids because they are literally being carried home.’”
The resident also raised concerns about the college interns operating as beach patrol, and Petersen replied that “first and foremost they are a visual deterrent” and could give verbal warnings and educate citizens but could not issue civil citations.
On Thursday, Chief Shanahan said that in response to the July 15 incidents, he increased police presence on the beach with the assistance of military commanders and that public intoxication of Marines became “a dead issue within three weeks.”
On the weekend of June 21 to 23, one military member was arrested for resisting an officer after consuming alcohol in a prohibited area, according to a report sent from Shanahan to a Camp Lejeune deputy commander. Thirteen other military members received citations for underage drinking or consuming alcohol in a prohibited area.
The next Saturday citations were issued to 14 additional military members for alcohol violations.
In July, Shugarts, Medlin, Loftis, and two SCPD officers met with Ramirez to address the issue. During an August town council meeting, Shugarts said the meeting addressed the importance of preserving the family atmosphere of the town’s beach.
“We don’t want people doing some crazy things on the beach on a weekend that might freak [families] out,” Shugarts said. “Plus we have people who spend their hard-earned money on vacations. We want to make sure we keep our beaches right.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com or (970) 413-3815