Attorneys alleged in the suit that on Sept. 18, 2018, Greensboro police officer Thomas Webster IV, Ridgely Police Chief Gary Manos, and Centreville police officer Dennis Lannon “chased Anton to his home, smashed a car window near his head, fired a Taser at him, and then forced him to the ground, pinning his slight frame beneath the collective weight of their bodies.”
Body-camera footage shows an officer asking the chief to roll over at one point in the encounter, to which the chief responds: “Hold on, let me get him.”
As Anton screamed and cried "please," a Caroline County Sheriff’s deputy at Webster’s direction searched for shackles, according to the lawsuit. "It took another four minutes for the officers to locate shackles, during which time Chief Manos continued pinning an already handcuffed Anton face-down with his body," attorneys stated in the suit.
They argued Webster should have never been hired locally after a "documented history of violence and excessive force against Black residents" in Delaware. His former employer, the Dover Police Department, has records of 29 use-of-force incidents involving Webster, according to the lawsuit.
“Sadly, Anton’s mother witnessed her son’s death on the front porch of her home,” attorneys stated in the lawsuit regarding Anton’s death. “Even as he died, officers began developing the false story they would use to defend their actions—falsely claiming that Anton was high on marijuana laced with another drug and exhibiting ‘superhuman’ strength.”
A medical examiner later determined that there were no drugs in Anton Black’s system at the time of his death.
“This was the story the officers fed to the Maryland State Police, the state agency charged with investigating Anton’s death, which used its authority to hunt for evidence to smear Anton and justify his killing by police,” the lawsuit reads.
Caroline County State's Attorney Joe Riley refused to charge a single person in Black’s death, citing the state’s cause of death as accidental despite contrary determinations from other medical professionals.
LaToya Holley, Black's older sister, told the ACLU of Maryland last year that "it's devastating" to lose a loved one like this, and that the state medical examiner tried to say a pre-existing heart condition caused Black’s death and his interaction with law enforcement officers only contributed. The state’s medical examiner also alleged that a “significant contributing condition was bipolar disorder,” which Black’s family attorneys deemed outrageous in the lawsuit.
The family’s legal team is zeroing in on the state of Maryland and its medical examiners, Russell Alexander and David Fowler, who was the chief medical examiner at the time. The state and both examiners are named as defendants in the lawsuit; their portion of the litigation has not been resolved.
Attorney Tomeka Church, who is on the legal team of Anton Black's family, said they are happy to have gotten some justice, “but some justice is not full justice.” Church said attorneys will continue to fight for equitable reforms and added monetary compensation on behalf of the Black family.
Where the case goes from here largely centers on the state’s medical examiner’s office.
Fowler, who certified the state's death investigation for Anton Black, is the same alleged expert that Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin, called on for his defense. Fowler claimed that he believed Floyd underwent a cardiac arrhythmia and that a history of drug use, heart disease, and carbon monoxide exposure from the squad car during his detainment contributed to Floyd’s death.
It wasn’t an explanation the jury who convicted Chauvin believed. Martin Tobin, a Chicago pulmonologist and critical care physician, and Bill Smock, an emergency medical physician, testified that Floyd died of positional asphyxiation—a lack of oxygen caused by an inability to breathe properly in a particular posture.
Holly said, citing an independent autopsy report, that her brother died from the same condition. “They basically smothered him to death with his weight,” she said.
Black was held in a prone position, chest down—which a criminology professor testified during Chauvin’s trial is "supposed to be transitory."
On the heels of substantive police reform measures in the state, from restrictions on no-knock warrants to the passage of Anton’s Law to make police discipline records more transparent, the settlement in Anton Black's death sets a use-of-force policy that restricts the prone position and requires other officers to step in and report excessive force when they see it.
Maryland is the first state to both enact and repeal a bill of rights for law enforcement officers. Since Maryland took that first step in 1974, more than 20 states followed suit, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The majority of the bills include in them "a mandatory cooling-off period of up to 10 days before police officers have to cooperate with investigations, a requirement that only fellow police officers, not civilians, could question them, and an automatic scrubbing of records of complaints against them after a certain period," the nonprofit reported.
Maryland tossed out the bill of rights for officers last April following Floyd’s death.
Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said during the press conference announcing the Anton Black settlement that it builds on the work of legislators. The settlement requires implicit bias training for officers, a public introduction of any new officers hired in the three affected towns, and a better alliance between law enforcement and Eastern Shore mental health crisis centers.
Jeon said additional training will also be required for officers responding to mental health emergencies, which is what those in Anton Black’s case claimed they were doing. "They said that they were treating the manner as a mental health emergency, not as an arrest, and yet they responded with excessive force," Jeon said.
Jennell Black, Anton's mother, said in a statement there are “no words to describe the immense hurt that I will always feel.”
"No family should have to go through what we went through," she added.
Her son sustained 43 blunt trauma wounds as a result of his interaction with police. Renee Swafford, another of Anton Black’s family attorneys, said during the press conference that it could happen to any Black child.
"The implications from the medical examiner's office was extremely far-reaching,” Swafford said. “The office deliberately substituted that Anton 'died with bipolar disorder,’ instead of what he died from, positional asphyxiation as his cause of death, which in our opinion sends a very strong message to this community that they refuse to convict white officers who abuse Black people.”