State Will Consider Decertifying Officer Involved in Anton Black’s Death

Photo of the late Anton Black from the Facebook page of a coalition seeking justice for his death last year in police custody.

Following a legislative defeat in Annapolis, family members of Anton Black, the Eastern Shore teenager who died after being chased by police last fall, will head to Carroll County on Wednesday where state officials are slated to begin consideration of decertifying a Greensboro police officer who had been involved in pursuing the youth.

Rene Swafford, an attorney for the Black family, confirmed Monday the case of officer Thomas Webster IV has been included in the decertification agenda. The hearing will take place in a closed session.

On Wednesday, state officials could decide to decertify Webster, take more time to evaluate decertification or bring Webster in for an interview at a future date, Swafford said she was told by state officials. At issue was whether the Greensboro police agency that hired Webster sufficiently investigated and alerted state authorities to his record as a police officer in Delaware.

Black, a 19-year-old African-American college student and father-to-be, died Sept. 15 after being pursued by three white police officers and a white civilian following a 911 call reporting Black was dragging a 12-year-old boy down a Greensboro road against his will. The child, a relative of Black’s, was scared at the time and felt threatened, his father said. Black had recently been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.

According to witness testimony, Black seemed to be hallucinating at the time and could have been suffering from a mental health episode. The boy told Webster – who was the first officer to respond to the call – that Black was schizophrenic.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the state agency that oversees the police certification approval process, said state officials are specifically reviewing background personnel documents that were excluded from Webster’s November 2017 certification application. In question are 29 “use-of-force” reports that former Greensboro Police Chief Mike Petyo neglected to include, DPS spokesman Gerard Shields said.

Use-of-force reports are meant to show all incidents involving a police officer’s use of force on suspects.

Webster was seeking employment in Maryland following a highly publicized case in Delaware in which Webster was on trial for assault against an African-American man in his custody in 2013. The man was left with a broken jaw and concussion, but Webster was acquitted of the charges.

Petyo said the certification application for Webster included all relevant personnel information, including the 2015 trial documents. But he acknowledged the use-of-force reports were not part of the package he turned over to state officials.

“You don’t include that stuff [anyway],” Petyo said. “If I were to include that, I’d have to include every single report he had written in his whole career.”

Shields said the state disagrees.

“The [Greensboro] police department stated that it did a thorough review of the officer’s background and found him to be in good standing,” Shields said. “We were not aware of the 29 use-of-force reports and want to review them.”

Petyo said Webster resigned from the Dover, Del., police department in good standing. And he said that he conducted a thorough background check on Webster, even interviewing African-American residents on Webster’s former Dover beat who all gave positive references. However, Petyo has no written documentation showing who he interviewed.

Former Dover Police Chief Marvin C. Mailey “also gave Mr. Webster a great recommendation,” Petyo wrote in an accompanying letter.

“Applicant left previous agency for personal and family reason[s],” Petyo wrote in the November 2017 certification application to the state. “Applicant expressed that he has been interested [in] finding property in the state of Maryland to build on and rather further his law enforcement career in Maryland.”

In fact, Webster and local officials came to a mutual agreement that he would leave the Dover Police Department and would not pursue employment in the city again. In a settlement agreement between Webster and Dover, Webster agreed to waive any claims he might have for “employment or reemployment by City of Dover in the future.”

As part of the city’s separation agreement, Webster was to receive $230,000 over a six-year period. The man involved in the 2013 incident, Lateef Dickerson, was paid $300,000 to drop a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, according to media reports.

An internal administrative investigation to determine whether Webster followed police department guidelines during his pursuit of Black is still ongoing, a Maryland State Police spokesman said Monday. The investigation came at the request of the Greensboro Police Department. Petyo has since left the force.

“The Maryland State Police administrative investigation by the Internal Affairs Division is continuing,” MSP spokesman Greg Shipley said.

According to the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission April 10 agenda, the meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Police and Correctional Training Commission building at 6842 4th St. in Sykesville.

Last week, Maryland State Police officially closed a criminal investigation of Webster and two other off-duty officers involved in Black’s fatal encounter. Caroline County State’s Attorney Joe Riley (R) said Monday a decision in January to not pursue charges against the officers has not changed.

“We are not seeking an indictment at this time,” Riley said. “Other than that, we have no comment.”

Riley would not provide an accounting of the state police findings, but a source familiar with the investigation said no wrongdoing was found.

Attempts to reform a process that allows law enforcement agencies to investigate themselves and leave family members of individuals who died in police custody with little to no information will have to wait until next year. Two bills introduced this General Assembly session — Anton’s Law, and the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act — that would have created more transparency in officer-involved death investigations died in the 2019 legislative session, which ended Monday.

Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]

 

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