Maryland Cities to Pay $5 Million for Death of Black Teen in Police Encounter

Three towns on Maryland’s east coast have agreed to pay $5 million to the family of a black teenager who was killed during an encounter with police in 2018, family attorneys said Monday.

The announcement of a partial settlement in the federal lawsuit brought by Anton Black’s family came nearly four years after the death of Mr. Black, a 19-year-old former high school star athlete with a budding modeling career, after having been held by three policemen, which held him face down for about six minutes, pinning his shoulder, legs and arms, according to the lawsuit. As part of the deal, the cities also agreed to change how their police departments train officers to prevent similar deaths.

Mr Black’s death has drawn comparisons to the May 2020 murder of George Floydwho was pinned to the ground under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white former police officer from Minneapolis, for more than nine minutes.

After local prosecutors failed to press charges in the death, Mr. Black’s family filed suit in US District Court in Baltimore in December 2020, arguing that the officers – all white – of the United States Police Department towns of Centreville, Greensboro and Ridgely had used excessive force on September 15, 2018. The lawsuit also argued that officers attempted to cover up a wrongful killing by claiming that Mr. Black was under the influence of marijuana mixed with another drug and had shown “superhuman” strength. .

An autopsy report released four months later by then state medical examiner David Fowler blamed congenital heart defects for Mr Black’s death and classified the death as an accident, saying that ‘there was no evidence that the actions of the police had played a role. role. Litigation by Mr Black’s family against the Medical Examiner’s Office and Mr Fowler – also defendants in their lawsuit – continues.

Jennell Black, Mr Black’s mother, said in a statement that “there are no words to describe the immense pain I will always feel when I look back on that tragic day, when I think of my son “.

“No family should have to go through what we went through,” she added. “I hope the reforms within the police service will save lives and prevent any family from feeling the pain we feel every day.”

In addition to the three towns, the partial lawsuit settlement resolved the family’s claims against several people in the towns, including Thomas Webster IV, a former Greensboro police officer; Michael Petyo, the former chief of the Greensboro Police Department; Gary Manos, the former chief of the Ridgely Police Department; and Dennis Lannon, a former Centerville police officer.

The men could not be reached or did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Monday evening.

Lawyers representing the three cities — Patrick W. Thomas, Sharon M. VanEmburgh and Lyndsey Ryan — did not immediately respond to emails or calls seeking comment on Monday. The attorney general’s office, which represents the medical examiner, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment on Monday.

In the summer of 2018, Mr Black developed mental health issues and began behaving erratically, according to the lawsuit. It was eventually discovered that he suffered from bipolar disorder.

On September 15, 2018, a woman called 911 after seeing Mr. Black get into a fight with a 12-year-old boy, according to the lawsuit. Arriving officers tasered Mr Black and cornered him near his mother’s home in Greensboro, the lawsuit alleges.

While being restrained, Mr Black told his mother: ‘I love you’ and shouted: ‘Please’, according to the lawsuit, which cites body camera footage of the officers.

Moments later, after his mother noticed Mr Black “going dark”, paramedics tried to resuscitate him, but he died after being taken to hospital, the lawsuit said.

Judge Catherine Blake of the United States District Court in Maryland said in a ruling earlier this year that the video evidence of Mr. Black’s encounter with police “is not conclusive enough to ‘clearly contradict’ and prevail over the plaintiffs’ allegations of ‘excessive force, which has pushes back the police department case.

Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, a group that has called for police accountability in Mr Black’s death, noted in a statement that the police reforms brought about by the settlement would help “prevent this kind of tragedy to happen in our community again.

Reforms required under the settlement include more resources for police officers who encounter mental health emergencies, de-escalation training, lessons on implicit bias and transparency in hiring.

Deborah Jeon, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which represented the coalition, said in a statement that “today marks a step forward on the road to accountability for the murder of Anton Black by the police”.

In addition to these reforms, a Maryland law named after Mr. Black already requires the disclosure of information about investigations into police misconduct.

La Toya Holley, Mr Black’s sister, said in a statement on Monday that the settlement had given her hope another tragedy could be averted.

“Nobody deserves to be killed like this,” Ms Holley said. “Anton Black didn’t deserve this. He will never be forgotten.”

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