The family of Anton Black, the 19-year-old African American man who died in police custody in Maryland’s Caroline County in 2018, has settled part of their federal lawsuit against several municipalities on the Eastern Shore.
Black’s family will receive $5 million as part of the settlement, which also requires three towns to enact systemic changes within their police departments aimed at preventing another death like Black’s, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said in a news release.
Lawyers for the family and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black will continue to litigate a portion of the lawsuit that alleges the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and its controversial former chief medical examiner, Dr. David Fowler, conspired to cover up the circumstances of his death.
In a statement provided by the ACLU, Black’s mother decried her son’s death at the hands of police and said she hoped the reforms outlined in the settlement will prevent more tragedies.
“I had to watch those police officers kill my son, while he pleaded for his life and called out to me,” Jennell Black said. “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… I hope the reforms within the police departments will save lives and prevent any family from feeling the pain we feel every day.”
Black Died Sept. 16, 2018, at Easton Memorial Hospital, shortly after an altercation with an officer from the Greensboro Police Department and two other officers from other agencies. All of the officers were white.
The officers confronted Black after a woman called 911 after seeing Black wrestle with a younger relative. Black ran, and the officers chased him through Greensboro and to his family’s home in a trailer park. The officers fired a taser at Black, pinned him down on a ramp leading up to his home, cuffed him and stayed on top of him for almost six minutes.
His mother was home and could be heard on body-camera footage asking officers whether her son was breathing.
An autopsy revealed he died of sudden cardiac arrest, with the report by the medical examiner saying stress associated with his struggle with law enforcement contributed.
Black’s death spurred calls for wholesale change in Maryland and, while Black’s family was frustrated that it took lawmakers years to pass legislation bearing his name, the landmark “Maryland Police Accountability Act” was enacted into law in 2021. Among its components, “Anton’s Law ”Promised to make police disciplinary records more transparent.
One of the officers involved in Black’s death, Thomas Webster IV, who is no longer with the Greensboro Police Department, neglected to disclose nearly 30 use-of-force reports from his previous career as an officer in Dover, Delaware. Maryland officials revoked Webster’s law enforcement certification in 2019.
Attorneys representing Webster along with Greensboro and its former police chief, Michael Petyo, did not respond Monday afternoon to requests for comment. A lawyer representing Fowler also did not respond. The Maryland Office of the Attorney General, which is representing the state medical examiner’s office, declined to comment.
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The ACLU said reforms outlined in the settlement expand upon the changes brought about by lawmakers in 2021.
Each of the three municipalities will be required to overhaul their use-of-force policies: bolster resources for officers handling mental health crises; add training on de-escalation and implicit bias; provide more transparency about hiring; and report complaints publicly, the ACLU said in the news release.
The municipalities named in the complaint are Greensboro and Ridgley, both in Caroline County, and Centerville, in Queen Anne’s County.
Advocates touted the municipal reforms as a framework for more change at the state and national level.
“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,” said Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, in a statement.
Attorneys with the ACLU represented the coalition in the lawsuit.
“We are hopeful,” Potter said, “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.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism