The family of a Maryland teen who died in police custody in 2018, has reached a multi-million partial settlement with three separate townships in the state’s Eastern Shore. The estate has also negotiated an agreement to implement institutional changes in all of the municipalities’ police departments.
On Monday, Aug. 8, the guardians of the Anton Black estate announced they have reached a $5 million partial settlement to a federal lawsuit in 2020 that named Greensboro Police Officer Thomas Webster IV, Greensboro Police Chief Michael Peyto, Ridgley Police Chief Gary Manos, Centreville Police Officer Dennis Lannon, and the towns of Greensboro, Ridgely, and Centreville as defendants in a case that claims the officers violated his civil rights and contributed to the teen’s unconstitutional killing.
Black’s parents, Jennell and Anton Black, believe the financial aspect of the agreement is bittersweet, noting it can’t replace the loss of their son and the system needs serious reform.
Added to the agreement, three of the towns in the Eastern Shore area will have to invest in multiple systems of reform in how train officers, including developing a comprehensive policy on de-escalating conflict, and the use of force, particularly when faced with mental health emergencies and accurately reporting civilian complaints against fellow officers, the Huffington Post reports.
Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, commented on the partial settlement saying, “The family and our coalition have worked tirelessly to bring accountability in Anton Black’s case and to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in our community again.”
“Today, we are hopeful that by reforming these local police departments, we will start to move a little closer in the right direction, away from white supremacy and closer to a nation of true equality and justice,” he continued.
Black was 19 years old when he died after an altercation with officers in Greensboro, in Caroline County, Maryland, after he was detained on Sept. 15, 2018.
Police reports stated Webster responded to a dispatch about a possible abduction involving a teenager and a younger boy. After Black and the boy were accosted by Webster as they walked down a road, the two youths subsequently fled the scene in different directions when Webster told Black to submit to being handcuffed. Webster chased Black, and two of the cops who inserted themselves into the affray were off duty at the time. They all pursued Black until he was caught after he tried to escape or hide in a car at his family’s trailer home.
Webster smashed the window of the car to get to him.
The officer then struck Black with a Taser.
The teen managed to escape but was then pinned down to the ground. His family likened the use of force, in their lawsuit, to former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin and how he deprived George Floyd of oxygen, thus causing his death.
Bodycam captured Black, like Floyd, calling for his mother saying, “Mommy, please,” as the three officers pressed down on his face, stomach, and chest for six minutes on the porch of the family trailer. The family argues the officers did not respond properly to Black, who was suffering from a crisis related to schizophrenia.
They assert they were responding to a 911 call about the teen tussling with a 12-year-old boy who was also a family friend (who was also considered a cousin). The boy told officers, according to court filings, he was aware that Black was experiencing a challenge with his mental health, even identifying his disorder. When
Black died in front of his mother’s home on the steps.
Jennell Black, the mother of Anton Black, said in a statement, “I had to watch those police officers kill my son, while he pleaded for his life and called out to me. There are no words to describe the immense hurt that I will always feel when I think 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 departments will save lives and prevent any family from feeling the pain we feel every day.”
After a medical examiner declared his death accidental, prosecutors decided not to push criminal charges on the police involved.
Black’s father said, “It’s a good ol’ boy thing. No charges. They killed him — not even a misdemeanor charge. (If) they do a dog like they did my son, somebody (would) be charged, somebody would be in jail. These fellas should be under the jail.”
As a result of their declaration, Assistant Medical Examiner Russell Alexander, Assistant Medical Examiner Pamela Southall, and former Chief Medical Examiner David Fowler (retired in 2019), are also named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses the examiners of conspiring to cover up the “wrongful actions by officers.”
One aspect of concern that the lawsuit identifies as an attempt to cover up with the various agencies is how the report showed Black did not have drugs in his system. This fact conflicted with the initial account of his death given by police at the time of the incident.
Another connection to the Floyd case is Fowler. The ex-chief was selected because of his expertise in custody death rulings to testify in the Chauvin trial, where the former officer was found guilty of the man’s death.
After the conviction, over 400 medical professionals petitioned the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, asking them to review Fowler’s record, teachings, and practices connected to in-custody deaths over his 17-year career.
The family’s litigation against the medical examiner’s office continues.
The lawsuit impacted the other defendants in a plethora of ways, including placing a spotlight on various areas of misconduct and abuse of power.
Peyto pled guilty to charges after a review of his career discovered multiple misconduct complaints on his record. He also copped to neglecting to inform a Maryland police commission hiring Webster about his allegations of him using excessive force through his tenure as an officer.
Webster then had his license revoked in 2019.
One of the family’s attorneys, Renee Swafford, stated the partial settlement sends a “strong message” to unwavering allies of bad cops.
Swafford said, “In our opinion, (it) sends a very strong message to this community they refuse to convict white officers who abuse Black people.”
Another lawyer for the family, Tomika Church, said, “Some justice is not full justice. There still remain others who need to be held accountable for this tragedy.”
The Blacks are now calling for a new autopsy to be performed and for the cops connected to their son’s death held accountable.