Maryland towns to pay $5 million after teen dies in police encounter, family lawyers say

Three towns on Maryland’s east coast will pay $5 million to the family of a black teenager who was killed in an encounter with police nearly four years ago, according to family attorneys.

Anton Black, a 19-year-old former high school star athlete, died on September 15, 2018, after being restrained by three officers from the Centreville, Greensboro and Ridgley Police Departments who held him face down for approximately six minutes , pinning his shoulders, legs and arms, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Baltimore in late 2020.

“I had to watch these police officers kill my son, as he pleaded for his life and called out to 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,” Black’s mother, Janell Black, said in a statement Monday.

As part of the settlement, the three cities also agreed to make changes to the training of officers in their police departments to prevent future deaths of this nature, according to family attorneys.

Changes include an overhaul of “use of force” policies for the three east coast municipalities, more resources for police dealing with mental health emergencies, and training for mandated officers on de-escalation, intervention and implicit biases, say the lawyers. The policy changes also strengthen transparency in hiring and the reporting of public complaints.

The federal lawsuit was filed after local prosecutors declined to press charges in Black’s death. The officers involved argued they did not use excessive force and instead Black’s drug use or mental illness contributed to the life-ending cardiac arrest.

In this Jan. 28, 2019, file photo, Antone Black, left, and his wife, Jennell, pose for a photo at their home in Greensboro, Maryland.

Patrick Semansky/AP,FILE

The night of his murder, a woman called 911 claiming Black was fighting with another boy, according to the lawsuit. Another witness said the boys engaged in “ordinary brutality”, according to the lawsuit.

Black had been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder just months before the incident, according to the lawsuit. At the time of the 911 call and police response, Black was going through a mental health crisis, according to the lawsuit.

Black ran when confronted by a responding police officer, according to the lawsuit. The other officers and a bystander then chased him, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit said officers used a taser to bring him to the ground, where he was pinned face down until he lost consciousness.

One of the officers wrote in a court affidavit that he and another officer had to wrestle with Black in order to keep him restrained and handcuffed.

This lawsuit argued that the officers involved used excessive force and then attempted to cover up the murder using false allegations that Black was under the influence of marijuana mixed with another drug, which led the officers to accuse Black of displaying “superhuman” strength.

A toxicology report released months after Black’s death showed no drugs in his system, according to the lawsuit.

David Fowler, the state medical examiner at the time, released an autopsy four months after the incident that instead blamed congenital heart defects for Black’s death, classifying the death as an accident. Fowler said there was no evidence that the officer’s actions caused the death.

Black’s family is still pursuing lawsuits against the medical examiner’s office and Fowler, who have been linked to the cover-up of Black’s murder, according to family attorneys.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 28, 2019, file photo, Jennell Black, mother of Anton Black, looks at a collection of her son's belongings at her home in Greensboro, Maryland.

In this Jan. 28, 2019, file photo, Jennell Black, mother of Anton Black, looks at a collection of her son’s belongings at her home in Greensboro, Maryland.

Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

Lawyers representing Fowler and the medical examiner’s office have not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment. A response from Fowler to the family’s lawsuit said his actions and those of his office were “reasonable and legally justified.” The response stated that Fowler is not responsible for Black’s death and neither are the officers involved.

“No one deserves to be killed like this,” Black’s sister, LaToya Holley, said in a statement Monday. “Anton Black didn’t deserve this. He will never be forgotten. He was such a sweet, kind and loving person. There will always be a part of him in my heart.”

The settlement reached with the towns also covered the family’s claims against people involved in Black’s death, including Thomas Webster IV, a former Greensboro police officer; Michael Petyo, the former chief of the Greensboro Police Department; Gary Manos, the former chief of the Ridgely Police Department; and Dennis Lannon, a former Centerville police officer.

Lawyers representing the defendants and the three cities did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

“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,” said Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black who joined the lawsuit against the three cities, said in a statement Monday.

ABC News

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