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'They would arrest anyone.' A look back at the Ocean Drive jail and Easter riot of 1967

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OD Jail

Joe Ross rides in a mock-up of the old Ocean Drive jail on a float during Saturday's 25th anniversary SOS parade. Ross spent college summers in Ocean Drive Beach and was arrested three times. Photo by Christian Boschult 

On March 25, 1967, several thousand high school and college students rioted on the streets of Ocean Drive Beach. Cops arrested between 150 and 200 people. Two police officers suffered minor injuries. Rioters threw bricks and broke windows. Law enforcement deployed tear gas and rubber bullets. The State Law Enforcement Division and the highway patrol came in to help.

That’s according to old newspaper articles describing the riot in the area of what is now the intersection of Main Street and Ocean Boulevard in North Myrtle Beach.

Back then it was the main drag of Ocean Drive Beach. The city was its own entity from 1948 until it merged with several other towns to form North Myrtle Beach in 1968. The old city complex that housed the jail, fire department and court is now part of Flynn’s Irish Tavern.

The riot in OD Beach started around midnight the Saturday before Easter. Different news articles say anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people were in town for the weekend. Police Chief Merlin Bellamy was quoted in an Associated Press story that “it was just as though they were waiting for something to trigger it off.” Chief Bellamy also told the AP that the weekend brought the biggest crowd the town had ever seen.

Joe Ross and Coty Cuttino were college kids at the time, and witnessed the riot firsthand. Ross even got shot with a rubber bullet. It started at a couple shag clubs called The Pad and The Barrel, located just south of Main Street. (Neither club still stands) There were too many kids for the two joints to hold, and the crowd started backing into the street. 

“That’s when the police started to get involved, to just clear the streets,” Cuttino said. “And then some guy threw a smoke bomb in the back of The Barrel, which made everybody come out into the streets [and] stopped more traffic, and then the police didn’t know exactly what to do, [so] they called for reinforcements.”

Ross (who says he was on a date that night with a girl who would go on to be Miss South Carolina 1972) remembers police using tear gas and rubber bullets, one of which struck him. He recalled the riot being touched off by two friends from Laurinburg, North Carolina, who were arguing over a game of pool. 

“They were over there arguing over the pool game and police came in there and arrested them and brought them out there,” Ross said. “They put them in the police car and the kids wouldn’t let them leave; wouldn’t let the police leave with these kids in the car. And that kind of got everything really going good.”

News clippings from the time mention both incidents as flashpoints for the riot. 

One story mentions police using a seafood truck to haul the arrestees off to not only the OD jail, but also to jails in Crescent Beach and Nixonville (now the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle). Ross said it was from Hoskins Restaurant, and that not everyone who was loaded up made it to the jail. 

“A buddy of mine from Columbia was hiding on one side of the seafood truck,” Ross said. “And every time they put a bunch of kids in the seafood truck, kids would distract the policeman that was watching the seafood truck and my buddy would go around and open up the door and let all the kids out.”

After the riot ended around 2 a.m. Sunday, a news story says that Chief Bellamy ordered breakfast for everyone in jail, although “many” refused to eat. The story said bonds for those arrested ranged from $10 to $100. 

While riots weren’t the norm, police in the town were prone to arrest anyone for minor offenses, said Ross and Cuttino, although there was no animosity between the college kids and the cops. 

“You’ve got to remember what happened in OD stayed in OD,” Ross said. “Me being from Charlotte, none of this stuff ever ended up back in Charlotte. It wasn’t on any kind of record. I don’t mind telling you, I got a DUI down here and I paid $100.”

The kids had respect for the police, Cuttino said. “And we certainly respected Chief Bellamy, because he was stern but he was fair.” 

During the 25th Anniversary Society of Stranders’ Spring Safari parade on Saturday, Cuttino and Ross memorialized Bellamy and the OD Jail with an “inmate reunion” float deck out with signs including one that said “Busted by Chief Merlin Bellamy,” and featuring a locked-up Santa Claus, because “they would arrest anyone.”

“They had a tough job keeping us safe,” Ross said. “We’re members of very conservative families, and we’re down here having some of our first independent experiences down here and just acting like crazy high school and college kids would do.”

As a result, they got arrested. Cuttino was arrested in Ocean Drive seven times, and Ross was arrested three times. 

“I respect it now, but I didn’t like being in jail more than anybody else,” Ross said. He recounted being arrested one night following an afternoon of drinking. He was walking down the street with a cup of PJ – Purple Jesus, a drink made with grain alcohol and grape soda – when he ran into the cops.

“I was walking down the street going down to The Barrel, still had a cup of PJ in my hand walking down there, and I’m sure I was weaving along,” Ross said. “And I see ‘em coming and they pop the light on me. I just took the cup and threw it in the bushes and they got out. Officer Cook came over and said ‘Alright, going to jail.’ And I said ‘For what? I’m not drinking.’ And he said ‘For littering.’"

One day in 1968, Cuttino was arrested twice over a pyramid of beer cans built on the porch of a house that was in his name. The first time officers told them to take it down, they did, but the housemates quickly built it back up again. 

“The policeman came up and arrested me for $10 for public display of alcoholic beverages,” Cuttino said. “Well I thought that was insane because I was sitting on my front porch in my house. So I called up my dad in Sumter, and I said, ‘Dad, can a policeman come onto your property, on your porch, and arrest you for drinking a beer?’ And he said, ‘Son, where are you now?’ I said, ‘Dad, I’m in jail.’ He said ‘Yep, they can come on your front porch. Yes they can!’ He was a wise man.”

That night he was arrested again for the pyramid and his bond was set at $300, an extraordinarily large sum for that offense at that time, most likely due to the time of arrest — 3 a.m. — and because they had been warned multiple times before to take it down. His girlfriend had to collect donations to get him out, and even sold his surfboard. 

“So later that afternoon, he was still locked up, and we go in with all the money we had collected all day long. We got down to the change being emptied on the counter,” said Cuttino’s then-girlfriend and now wife Carolyn. “Well we had collected $297. That was a lot of money. So Chief Bellamy walks in the jail and he looks at me and says ‘Little lady, you hadn’t got your fella out of jail yet?’ And I said, ‘No sir,’ I need three dollars.’ And he pulls out his wallet and puts three dollars down on the counter and said ‘All I want is an invitation to the wedding.’ That was kind of Chief Bellamy.”

Ross and Cuttino postulated that revenue from all the arrests probably was a major contributor to the town’s budget because, Ross said, “in those days it was a little small beach town and had a small police department. This was a 90-day-a-year business down here, and that was it. It started Memorial Day and ended in Labor Day, except for Easter weekend and Mother’s Day weekend.”

Despite all the stories of being locked up for seemingly innocuous offenses, the shaggers said they never felt abused by the police. 

“I was abused one time. They put me in jail for a public display of alcoholic beverages, and my bail was $10," Cuttino said. So he asked for his one phone call and used it to order pizza. "And when the pizza came, the policemen paid for it but wouldn’t give it to me. That was abuse. They ate my pizza.”

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