The family of Anton Black has filed a federal lawsuit against Greensboro, MD police and the city of Greensboro in connection to his death after an encounter with police on September 15, 2018.
Body camera footage from that evening shows Greensboro Officer Thomas Webster IV confronting Anton in response to a 911 call from a woman who said she saw Anton pulling a boy down the street against his will. Police responded to the call and treated it as a suspected kidnapping, however Anton’s family said the boy was a friend and was not in danger.
In the video, Anton is seen fleeing after Officer Webster tells him to put his hands behind his back. After a brief foot chase, Webster finds Anton in the driver’s seat of a parked car outside of his mother’s home. The officer breaks the driver’s side car window and tases Anton as he tries to get out of the passenger side door.
After exiting the car, Webster, as well as off-duty Police Chief Gary Manos, off-duty Centreville Police Officer Dennis Lannon, and a civilian, began struggling with Anton trying to get him cuffed.
After a struggle, Anton is put in handcuffs and ankle restraints while lying on his chest and stomach. According to the suit, Manos put his “weight atop Anton’s body for the next six minutes or more, even when Anton stopped moving, and even with the other men further restraining him in additional ways, such as by holding his legs.”
After Anton was cuffed at the hands and restrained at the ankles, officers rolled him over. In the body-camera footage he appears to be unresponsive at this time, however an officer can be heard saying, “he’s breathing, and he’s got a plus.”
Anton’s mother, Jennell Black, who had been watching from a doorway of a home, called his name multiple times but he did not respond. After she said, “He’s turning dark”, police uncuffed him and began administering CPR.
Anton was taken to an Easton hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Anton’s parents, the mother of Anton’s child and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, argues that Black died as a direct result of the officers’ excessive use of force and that public officials conspired to protect those officers from the consequences of their actions.
The suit also argues that the officers’ actions were a violation of the Greensboro Police Department’s handbook at multiple times during the encounter.
The document explains that “mere flight from a pursuing officer . . . is not good cause for the use of the TASER to apprehend an individual” and that a person should not be put on their stomach “for an extended period,” because it “could reduce the person’s ability to breathe.”
Anton’s family spent months trying to get the police department to release the body camera footage of the encounter, but the footage was not released until Gov. Larry Hogan publicly called for answers in the case.
An autopsy report released in January 2019 stated that “it is likely that the stress of his struggle contributed to the decedent’s death,” but that “no evidence was found that restraints led to the decedent being asphyxiated.”
The family doesn’t believe that narrative. Their lawsuit alleges that law enforcement “improperly influenced” the medical examiner.
“Instead of calling this a homicide, a death at the hands of others as the video clearly shows, the police fed information to the medical examiner, who then concluded that Anton died of natural causes. The medical examiner ignored well-recognized and accepted standards of forensic pathology in concealing that Anton had died of asphyxiation at the hands of the police,” attorney Ken Ravenell, who represents the family said in a statement.
Anton’s family says he had mental health issues and officers use of excessive force is what caused his death.
“I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve never seen anything so brutal as what they did to my child,” Black’s father, Antone Black Sr., said a news conference.
“This is a good kid. He had big dreams. He didn’t do anything wrong. My child didn’t have a knife, didn’t have a gun, didn’t have a stick or brick.”