Relatives of a 19-year-old black man who died during a fight with police officers on Maryland’s eastern shore have reached a $5 million partial settlement of his wrongful death lawsuit, a settlement that also calls for improvements in training and police policies, the family’s lawyers announced. Monday.
The family’s federal lawsuit accused police of using excessive force against Anton Black after they chased him down and tried to restrain him outside his family’s home in rural Greensboro, Maryland, in 2018. Officers handcuffed Black and they put shackles on his legs before he stopped breathing.
The suit also accused police of trying to cover up an unjustified murder, falsely claiming that Black was high on drugs, and exhibiting “superhuman” strength.
Black’s death fueled calls for an independent investigation and inspired legislative reform. A state law named after Black expanded public access to records on police disciplinary cases. It entered into force last September.
The settlement of the lawsuit resolves the family’s claims against three Maryland cities (Greensboro, Ridgely, and Centerville) and several individuals: former Greensboro Police Officer Thomas Webster IV, former Greensboro Police Chief Michael Petyo, former Ridgley Police Chief Gary Manos, Centerville Police Officer Dennis Lannon and Jeannette Cleveland, former Greensboro City Manager.
The $5 million settlement amount includes attorneys’ fees and costs, according to an attorney for the family. The agreement requires the three cities to update their policies governing the use of force by police officers, to provide officers with mental health training and annual training on “implicit bias” and de-escalation techniques.
Black had been diagnosed with a severe form of bipolar disorder. He was hospitalized less than two weeks before his death after his father called the police, worried that his son had been behaving strangely at home.
The settlement does not resolve the family’s claims against former Maryland Chief Medical Examiner David Fowler and the state medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner’s autopsy report listed Black’s death as accidental and said a congenital heart condition, mental illness and the stress of fighting likely contributed to his death.
An expert for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University, concluded that asphyxiation was the cause of Black’s death.
“There was nothing accidental about it,” family attorney Rene Swafford said at a news conference Monday.
A police body camera captured portions of Black’s encounter with police on September 15, 2018. The video shows Webster confronting Black in response to a 911 call that a man was roughly dragging a child across the road. with a headlock.
The boy, a friend of Black’s family, told the officer that Black was “schizophrenic” and had been acting strangely. When Webster ordered Black to put his hands behind his back and told him that he was under arrest, Black said, “I love you,” then turned and ran in the opposite direction.
Manos and Lannon were off duty when they tried to help Webster arrest Black.
After Black ran back to his family’s home and got into a car, Webster used a baton to break a car window and then used a stun gun on Black. Later, during a fight on the porch of his family’s home, Black lost consciousness when Manos, Lannon, and Webster tried to restrain him.
“Even after Anton was handcuffed, the officers ignored the danger they were causing and held Anton face down for approximately six minutes as he gasped for breath, lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest,” the suit says.
Black’s mother was nearby, calling his name and begging him to answer. Black was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
“They had to know he was dying,” said Anton’s father, Antone Black. “They killed my son for no reason.”
In January, a federal judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit. US District Judge Catherine Blake said body camera video of the deadly encounter does not conclusively contradict the family’s claims that police used excessive force against Black. The judge concluded that a reasonable jury “could reach more than one conclusion” about whether the officers used a reasonable degree of force against Black.
A county prosecutor did not ask a grand jury to consider criminal charges in Black’s death.
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland are among the attorneys representing Black’s family.
Attorneys for the three towns and other municipal defendants did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on the settlement.
Anton Black’s family and Coalition for Justice filed their lawsuit in December 2020. The lawsuit said Black died in a “chillingly similar manner” to that of George Floyd, the black man whose May 2020 murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked worldwide protests against racial injustice and police abuse.
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