Appellate court dismisses lawsuit by Vince’s Crab House over racial justice protests

Owners of the Middle River crab house said Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Baltimore County violated their property rights in June 2020 when police did not intervene to stop social justice protestors from boycotting Vince’s after its operator’s racist social media posts surfaced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Published 6/12/2023 2:24 p.m. EDT, Updated 6/13/2023 10:56 a.m. EDT

A still image from aerial footage shows dozens of people protesting in June 2020 outside a strip mall where Vince's Crab House is located. They are demonstrating against racist posts published on social media by the restaurant's operator.

The proprietors of Vince’s Crab House have lost an appeal to revive a 2020 lawsuit alleging their constitutional rights were violated by Baltimore County and County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. during protests against the business over racist social media posts.

In a caustic Appellate Court of Maryland opinion, Judge Dan Friedman wrote the Baltimore County Circuit Court was right to dismiss an amended complaint by restaurant manager Vincent Meyer II, who alleged that Baltimore County violated his property rights by not intervening to stop demonstrators from protesting outside Vince’s, particularly at the Middle River location (for more than 200 days, according to the amended complaint).

The amended complaint, Friedman wrote, was a “poorly-drafted” and “rambling, 41-page polemic” that failed in its “attempts to defeat public official immunity by making conclusory statements that the county acted with malice.” For the lawsuit to move forward, complainants would have had to overcome immunities granted to public officials and law enforcement — but Vince’s operators fell far short of proving a civil rights violation, according to the appellate court.

Vince’s offered only “vague arguments, unsupported by facts or case law, that the county caused the ‘widespread deprivation’ of their property,” Friedman wrote. And inaction doesn’t amount to malice, he added.

An attorney listed for Meyer in online court records did not immediately return a request for comment Monday morning.

The boycott — which did not lead to property damage, court documents say — was spurred in June 2020 when screenshots surfaced of Meyer’s racist, classist social media posts and comments denigrating social justice demonstrators following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin while in police custody in May 2020.

In a June 1 Facebook comment that was among the circulated social media accounts, Meyer, who is white, wrote “there is one place I bet the protesters/rioters won’t light on fire or break into or even block the road to .... the social services buildings.” That was followed by four laughing emojis, according to The Baltimore Sun. Some of Meyer’s older social media posts included racial slurs.

In response, Baltimore-area social justice organizers rallied demonstrators to picket outside locations of Vince’s, telling reporters their goal was to “break their [Vince’s] pocketbooks.”

News outlets turned the dispute’s every development into a media circus. The Middle River restaurant became the seedbed for dueling accusations of assault, harassment and intimidation between the protesters and Vince’s, which the Meyer family owns.

During press conferences, Meyer said Olszewski’s administration ordered patrol officers to stand down from disrupting demonstrations — amounting to a violation of Meyer’s constitutional rights and “‘widespread deprivation’” of his property, according to court filings.

Meyer sought monetary damages to cover financial losses that he said the business — which has locations in Middle River, Dundalk, Fallston and Manchester — suffered amid protests, and to recoup expenses paid for tinting restaurant windows and hiring private security guards.

Baltimore County maintained the claim was not rooted in reality. When the lawsuit was first filed in July 2020, Olszewski’s administration stated that the county would continue to “protect residents’ First Amendment rights to peaceful protest while doing whatever is necessary to ensure public safety.”

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