For months, a state police investigation surrounding the death of an African-American teen who died last fall after being restrained by three white police officers in Caroline County has remained under the radar. That’s about to change.
The body camera video worn by one of the police officers who pursued 19-year-old Anton Black after an alleged child abduction call to police will be posted on the Greensboro Police Department Facebook page by the police chief very soon, according to Julie Parker, a communications consultant retained by the police department and town of Greensboro.
For months, Black’s family members – who have been working behind the scenes with a private investigator, lawyer and members of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black – have requested the video’s release.
Trevor Hewick, a former Washington, D.C., police officer who is working as a private investigator for the Black family, said he has seen the video and believes one of the officers killed Black using a chokehold.
“I can stand here and tell you I am very confident in what happened to Anton,” Hewick said in at a community gathering in Kent County earlier this month. “They killed him and it’s murder.”
The officer, Ridgely Chief of Police Gary Manos, in a phone interview Monday denied the charges and says the video – once aired – will dispel any accusations Hewick is making against him.
“It’s not true,” Manos said. “Nobody put him into a chokehold. I am patiently waiting like everyone else for the medical examiner’s report and the state police report. It’s hard on us because of the lies being made. It’s not true at all.”
Because the killing took place on the Eastern Shore, it has not received the attention it might have if it had occurred in the Baltimore area or the Washington suburbs. But the controversy has generated a great deal of heat in Eastern Shore communities, and civil rights groups are intensifying their call for state action.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun published Tuesday, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said he was concerned that the case has left so many unanswered questions.
“I’m very frustrated that we haven’t gotten answers yet,” Hogan told the newspaper. “I’ve been pushing both the state police and the medical examiner to finish their investigation as quickly as they possibly can. … The family, the police department, the community, everyone deserves to get answers.”
Before it is released, the video will be first be redacted so the faces of the 12-year-old boy who was allegedly abducted and Black will be screened out. Manos said the original video was viewed by Caroline County NAACP president Berl Lovelace a day after Black died.
According to the Maryland State Police, who have been investigating Black’s death since September, a 911 call came into the Greensboro Police Department a little after 7 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2018. The caller said she saw a 12-year-old boy being forcefully dragged along Sunset Avenue near the Choptank River Bridge. However, a local law enforcement official said Jan. 24 the incident took place on Rt. 313, Greensboro Road, near Black’s residence.
In the Sept. 16 Maryland State Police news release, MSP states police were dispatched to Sunset Avenue. According to a police official familiar with the call – which may also be released this week – the woman asked the boy if he was OK, and the boy said no. The woman then asked the boy if he wanted her to call the police, and the boy said yes.
Greensboro Police Officer Thomas Webster IV was the first to respond to the call. Manos, who was off-duty but in the area at the time, said he responded to a call to assist Webster.
A Sept. 16 news release issued by state police said Webster observed Black restraining the boy. Webster then asked Black to release the boy. While Black released the boy, Webster asked if Black and the boy were related. The boy said no, and Black said yes, the two were brothers.
According to the news release, Webster then asked Black to put his hands behind his back. Black fled, but not before telling Webster he loved the boy, police said. Manos said the boy also ran.
In media reports, Black’s father, Antone Black Sr., said the two are close family friends and the encounter was just horse play.
According to police, Webster then followed Black on foot to Black’s home in the 13000 block of Greensboro Drive. At that point, a third officer from the Centreville police in Queen Anne’s County, a neighboring jurisdiction, was also assisting in the pursuit. Black jumped in the front seat of a car parked next to his home on the property. When Black tried to exit the car, the police tased him. Black continued to flee the scene, and he was met by two officers and a civilian who attempted to restrain him, police said.
“During the struggle, Black continued to resist, biting two of the police officers and the civilian who was providing help,” the police stated. “Black also struck one of the officers in the face.”
Through Richard Potter, co-founder of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, the Black family did not want to be interviewed for this article.
Black’s parents were standing at the doorway of the home and were heard telling Black to stop struggling and comply with the officers, which Black’s mother confirmed at a Jan. 3 community meeting in Kent County. It was also said at the meeting that one of police officers shattered a window on the car using a police baton, but police neglected to include this in their report.
After a struggle between Black and the police, he was placed in handcuffs and ankle restraints, police said. They did so “without the use of any open or closed hand strikes, or police equipment such as tasers, batons, pepper spray or flashlights,” according to the police report.
Hewick said that based on what he saw in the video, this is when Manos initiated a chokehold on Black.
“I saw the chokehold on the body camera,” Hewick said. “That chokehold was kept during the struggle and even when he hit the ground.”
At the Jan. 3 meeting, Black’s mother said she saw her son’s face turn purple after police restrained him.
“I’ve [seen] enough chokeholds, where I know you take out that windpipe, that’s why you turn purple,” Hewick said.
According to state police, moments later Black was showing signs of medical distress.
“Officers immediately called for an ambulance and rendered medical assistance on scene by administering Narcan and performing CPR. EMS providers arrived and transported Black to Easton Memorial Hospital where he was later pronounced deceased,” the police report said.
At the January meeting, one of Black’s family members said they had given police the Narcan.
“Anton is not that boy,” La Toya Holley, Black’s sister, said at the Jan. 3 meeting. “He is not a thug. He’s not a drug dealer. He’s never been in trouble. If you needed him, he would be right there. If you called him, he would be there for you.”
Questions about a police officer’s history
Four months after Black’s death, Greensboro Police placed Webster on paid administrative leave following pressure from the community. Town officials also agreed to schedule diversity training for their police force and to revisit the possibility of establishing a citizen’s review board, where complaints or concerns about police can be heard.
According to the Caroline Times Record, Webster – a former police officer from Dover, Del. – was released from duty there in 2016 after he was acquitted of an assault against an unarmed black man. A dashboard video camera captured footage of Webster kicking the man while on the ground, eventually breaking his jaw.
Anton Black was a football and track star who attended Kent County High School for one year before graduating from North Caroline High School in 2016, his father said at a public meeting. He went to study law enforcement at a college in Delaware, while managing a career in modeling that took him to New York and Washington, D.C.
“This is a kid who saw a full glass, even though he was working with a half glass,” Hewick said.
Police have said Black suffered from some degree of mental illness. In August, he was evaluated for psychological issues after his father called police with concerns about his behavior, according to Kent County Sheriff John Price.
Potter, the co-founder of the coalition seeking justice for Black, who took a leave of absence as president of the Talbot County NAACP chapter to focus on the case, said he thinks every day about Black’s potential.
“Don’t let this be another statistic because we’re tired of it,” said a woman at the Jan. 3 meeting. “We’ve seen too many black children murdered and all the facts were out there – body cameras and news reports – just as plain as day. Then you see these officers walk out of court with a smile on their face.”
On Saturday, the ACLU of Maryland stepped in to help the family in its attempt to see the body camera footage released. The civil rights organization posted a call for action on its Facebook page along with a link to sample letters demanding more transparency from the police and local officials.
The investigation started four months ago. A preliminary autopsy conducted by the chief medical examiner in Baltimore has been conducted, but the Black family has been told a final report won’t be available until further toxicology reports come in, the family’s lawyer, Rene Swafford, said at the Kent County meeting. To date the family is still waiting to hear how their son died and whether it was at the hands of the police.
“Why the secrecy about Anton’s death?” the ACLU’s Facebook post reads. “The silence of local leaders is only feeding suspicion that there is something to hide.”
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]