The family of Anton Black, a 19-year-old Black man from a rural town in Maryland who died in police custody in 2018, reached a $5 million partial settlement and an agreement for there to be institutional changes to three municipalities’ police departments.
Black’s family filed a lawsuit in 2020, noting that George Floyd and Black had both died because police had pinned them to the ground and deprived them of oxygen.
As a part of the settlement agreement, three townships in Maryland’s Eastern Shore will have to institute several changes in policing, including improving policies on use of force when handling mental health emergencies, deescalation training, and reporting of civilians complaints made against officers.
Three white police officers, two of whom were off-duty, were responding to a call about a possible kidnapping when they chased Black on Sept. 15, 2018, before stunning him with a Taser and pinning him to the ground. As Black cried out for his mother, the three cops pressed down on his face, chest and stomach for six minutes, according to body camera footage of the incident.
Black was suffering from a mental health crisis, according to his family. A 911 call reported Black was roughhousing with a 12-year-old boy. He fled on foot after an officer saw him with the boy. The boy, who was a family friend, described Black as having “schizophrenia”, according to court filings.
Black died on his mother’s front steps. He suffered a total of 43 blunt trauma wounds during a struggle with the three officers, according to the lawsuit.
“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,” Jennell Black, the mother of Anton Black, said in a statement.
“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.”
In addition to the three men involved with Anton Black’s death — Gary Manos, police chief of the Ridgely Police Department; Thomas Webster IV, who was an officer with the Greensboro Police Department at the time; and Dennis Lannon, a Centreville Police Department officer — the suit named Michael Peyto, a former Greensboro police chief. Peyto pleaded guilty to misconduct charges related to his tenure leading the department, and allegedly didn’t tell a Maryland police commission hiring Webster that the officer had a history of allegations of using excessive force.
Webster’s license to be an officer was revoked in 2019.
The lawsuit also accused officials with the office of the Maryland medical examiner of covering for the police. The medical examiner initially ruled Anton Black’s death an accident.
David Fowler, who was the state’s medical examiner when Anton Black died, and Russell Alexander, who was assistant medical examiner, are accused of delaying the release of a toxicology report. The report showed that Anton Black did not have drugs in his system, which conflicted with the initial police account of the incident.
Fowler was called to testify in the 2021 murder trial for Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murdering Floyd in Minneapolis, due to his expertise in custody death rulings. Following the conviction of Chauvin, more than 400 medical professionals wrote a letter to the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and questioned Fowler’s teachings and practices; Frosh’s office announced an independent review of in-custody deaths over the course of Fowler’s 17-year tenure.
Litigation with the Maryland medical examiner’s office remains ongoing, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Maryland told HuffPost.
But Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition For Justice For Anton Black, said in a statement that the partial settlement represented a step forward for the family.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”