A federal judge in Maryland has refused to toss out the lawsuit that claims police on Maryland’s Eastern Shore used excessive force on 19-year-old Anton Black, who died in 2018 during a struggle with police who tried to handcuff and shackle his legs, according to the Associated Press.
This sounds like a story I’ve written almost once a week since the beginning of the new year and it’s happening all over the country. Family members of Anton Black sued all the officers involved in chasing and restraining him outside his family’s home in Greensboro, Maryland.
According to the Associated Press, a ruling from U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake said bodycam footage of the incident does not contradict the family’s claims that officers used excessive force on Black, adding a jury “could reach more than one conclusion” on whether officers used excessive force or not.
The officers being sued are former Greensboro police Officer Thomas Webster IV, former Ridgley police Chief Gary Manos and Centreville police Officer Dennis Lannon. Webster was the only officer on duty, while the other two were off-duty and tried to help with the arrest.
As a result of Black’s death, lawmakers in Maryland passed a bill named after him to bolster public access to records about police disciplinary cases.
More on the details of Black’s death from the Associated Press:
An autopsy report on Black’s death was released in 2019 two days after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, expressed frustration at the pace of the investigation. The state medical examiner’s autopsy report lists Black’s death as an accident and said Black’s congenital heart condition, mental illness and stress from the struggle likely contributed to his death.
But an expert for the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University, concluded that asphyxiation was the cause of Black’s death.
Body camera video captured parts of the altercation on Sept. 15, 2018. Police released the video in January 2019 after a county prosecutor announced that he wasn’t asking a grand jury to consider criminal charges in Black’s death.
The video shows Webster confronting Black in response to a 911 call that a man was roughly dragging a child down the road in 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 place his hands behind his back and told him he was under arrest, Black said, “I love you,” and then turned and jogged in the opposite direction.
After Black jogged back to his family’s home and got into a car, Webster used a baton to smash a car window and then used a stun gun on Black. Later, during a struggle on the porch of his family’s home, Black lost consciousness as Manos, Lannon and Webster tried to restrain him.
Experts for the plaintiffs (Black’s family) said applying pressure to Black while he was already restrained with his face down and legs in the air was unreasonable because it could cause asphyxiation, according to Associated Press.
Judge Blake stated that former Greensboro police Officer Thomas Webster, the one making the arrest, was reasonable for trying to arrest and chase after Black because he suspected he was assaulting a 12-year-old boy, according to the Associated Press.
But she also came to the conclusion that it can be disputed whether it was reasonable for Webster to break the car window with his baton without warning, use the stun gun on Black or for the former officers to attempt to restrain Black outside his family’s home.
More from the Associated Press:
During the struggle, Webster told Black’s mother, Jennell Black, that her son had tried to abduct a 12-year-old child and then ran from police. Black’s mother stood nearby, yelling his name and begging for him to respond. Black later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
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 police, concerned that his son had been acting strangely at home.
Blake said a person’s mental health must be factored into the use of force by police. The Greensboro Police Department’s handbook suggests that Webster didn’t try to de-escalate or avoid overreacting to somebody in the grips of a mental health crisis when he smashed the car window and used the stun gun on Black, the judge concluded.
“As with the baton and taser, the factual dispute as to whether Black was secured and did not pose a threat to the officers throughout the time they were subduing him on the porch must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs at this stage in litigation,” she wrote.