Family of Anton Black, who died in police custody, obtain partial $5 million settlement

The family of Anton Black, a 19-year-old black man from rural Maryland who died in police custody in 2018, has reached a partial $5 million settlement and agreement for there to be institutional changes in the police services of three municipalities.

Black’s family filed a lawsuit in 2020, noting that George Floyd and Black both died because police pinned them to the ground and deprived them of oxygen.

As part of the settlement agreement, three townships on Maryland’s east coast will have to institute several police changes, including improved policies on the use of force when handling mental health emergencies, training de-escalation and reporting of civilian complaints 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 September 15, 2018, before stunning him with a Taser and pinning him to the ground. As Black yelled for his mother, the three cops pressed down on her 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 that Black was getting into a fight 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 suffering from “schizophrenia”, according to court documents.

Black died on his mother’s porch. He suffered a total of 43 blunt injuries during a struggle with the three officers, according to the lawsuit.

“I had to watch these police kill my son, as he pleaded for his life and called me. There are no words to describe the immense pain I will always feel when I look back on that tragic day, when I think of my son,” Jennell Black, Anton Black’s mother, said in a statement.

“No family should have to go through what we went through,” she added. “I hope the reforms within the police service will save lives and prevent any family from feeling the pain we feel every day.”

In addition to the three men implicated in Anton Black’s death – Ridgely Police Department Chief of Police Gary Manos; Thomas Webster IV, who at the time was an officer with the Greensboro Police Department; and Dennis Lannon, an officer with the Centerville Police Department — the suit named Michael Peyto, a former Greensboro police chief. Peyto pleaded guilty to misconduct charges related to his tenure as head of the department and allegedly did not tell a Maryland police commission hiring Webster that the officer had a history of allegations of excessive use of the strength.

Webster’s license to be an officer was revoked in 2019.

The lawsuit also accused officials from the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office of covering up for the police. The medical examiner initially ruled that Anton Black’s death was an accident.

David Fowler, who was state medical examiner when Anton Black died, and Russell Alexander, who was deputy medical examiner, are accused of delaying the release of a toxicology report. The report showed that Anton Black had no drugs in his system, which contradicted the police’s initial account of the incident.

Fowler was called to testify in the 2021 murder trial for Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Floyd in Minneapolis, because of his expertise in death rulings in police custody. Following Chauvin’s conviction, more than 400 medical professionals wrote a letter to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office and questioned Fowler’s teachings and practices; Frosh’s office announced an independent review of deaths in custody during Fowler’s 17 years in office.

The litigation with the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office is still 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 was a step forward for the family.

“The family and our coalition have worked tirelessly to bring accountability to Anton Black’s case and to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again in our community,” the statement said. “Today, we hope that by reforming these local police departments, we will begin to move one step closer in the right direction, away from white supremacy and closer to a nation of true equality and justice.”


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