Anton Black, an African-American teen who died in police custody in September following a struggle with white police officers and a white civilian, complained of shortness of breath after being handcuffed, according to an emergency room physician’s report dated one day after the youth’s death.
An excerpt from the Sept. 16 Easton Memorial Hospital Physician Summary Report signed off on by emergency room physician Luke Whalen reads:
“Report from EMS is that the patient ran from police after smoking marijuana, was shot with the taser which was ineffective, eventually apprehended and handcuffed by police when he complained of shortness of breath, and had a witnessed arrest. No history from EMS of a particularly difficult struggle.”
The document, which was obtained by Maryland Matters, states “EMS,” emergency medical services, as the source of information in the “History of Present Illness” section where Black’s complaint is noted.
But the Maryland State Police, the agency investigating the officer-involved death, said they found no factual evidence to back up the doctor’s claim.
The claim was referenced in the official report from state police when the investigation was closed earlier this month.
“When the doctor was questioned about the shortness of breath statement, he said he could not remember who told him that,” Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said in an email. “MD State Police investigators interviewed all persons on the scene and involved that evening and reviewed the body camera footage of the encounter. They could find no factual basis for that statement and had no evidence either through statements or the video, of Anton Black ever complaining of shortness of breath.”
In a later interview with Maryland Matters, state police conceded they had not interviewed the EMS team who transported Black in an ambulance to the hospital.
“The EMS drivers who transported Anton Black were not interviewed by State Police investigators,” Shipley said. “Investigators interviewed those who provided emergency care to Anton Black.”
Black, a 19-year-old Caroline County resident, died of sudden cardiac death Sept. 15 after a police pursuit following a 911 call that reported Black dragging a young boy down the road against his will. After a foot chase that led back to Black’s mother’s house a short distance away, multiple police officers and a civilian constrained Black, placed him in handcuffs and then on the second attempt, placed him in leg shackles.
Immediately after Black was secured in leg shackles, at least two law enforcement officers observed Black losing consciousness in some form, according to interview transcripts included in the MSP report. Approximately three minutes passed before the officers who constrained Black began CPR. CPR efforts lasted no less than 25 minutes, according to a police body camera timeline in the MSP report.
EMS crews arrived after CPR began and assisted in the life-saving measures, but Black was pronounced dead approximately 60 minutes later at Easton Memorial Hospital. His time of death was listed as 8:36 p.m.
Whalen, the emergency room physician who attended to Black the night he died, said in a phone interview last week that the information he reported in the Sept. 16 Physician Summary Report could have been given to him from any number of people.
“It could have been down multiple lines, especially in a case like that [where] I’m actively managing resuscitation,” Whalen said. “My memory of how that information got to me is I don’t have one. I only know that that’s what I was told by somebody. It’s difficult for me to remember who.”
Whalen said he could have picked it up from a nurse after he attended to Black or the EMS when they arrived.
Caroline County Emergency Services Department Director Bryan Ebling said while he could not speak directly to Black’s specific case, he said in circumstances like Black’s, it is common for EMS personnel to speak on a two-way radio with a hospital physician while en route.
“They’re speaking over the radio to a physician describing what has occurred,” Ebling said. “What interventions that have occurred, what they’ve done to resuscitate the patient and the amount of time that has passed — everything they’ve done according to their protocols. The physician decides whether to continue resuscitation efforts or terminate resuscitation efforts.”
MSP would not provide a list of names of individuals interviewed for the investigation, but instead directed Maryland Matters to the state investigative file it was provided through a Public Information Act request.
Two of the personnel who assisted in life-saving measures on Black are listed in the MSP interview section of the report — Kent County EMS Chief Shawn Starkey and Caroline County sheriff’s deputy Amber Thamert.
According to Caroline County Emergency Services records included in the MSP report, two EMS crews from Goldsboro and Ridgely arrived on the scene to assist — though, individual technicians and their roles at the scene are not detailed. Frank Starkey of the Greensboro Volunteer Fire Department is also mentioned in testimony as having assisted with CPR efforts on Black.
And while Shawn Starkey’s interview is referenced in the MSP report, the main information from his interview is not included, while interviews with other law enforcement officers directly involved with Black are. Shawn Starkey also had a role in communicating with the EMS transport crews who took Black to the hospital.
“Interviews with personnel who provided emergency care to Anton Black on the scene are included in the report,” Shipley said. “They include Deputy Thamert, who assisted with CPR, and Shawn Starkey, who is the Chief of EMS for Kent County. Mr. Starkey responded to the scene and directed the emergency care procedures provided on scene and continued during transport to the hospital.
“In the report on page 19, under the list of witnesses, Shawn Starkey is listed at #14,” Shipley said. “A general description of his statement is given there. Also mentioned there is that his interview was recorded. In her PIA response letter to you that was provided with the written report, [MSP Public Information Act coordinator Rhea] Harris stated electronic media related to this investigation is still being reviewed by legal counsel and will be available following required redactions at a later date. A written transcript of Mr. Starkey’s interview is not available to provide you at this time.”
According to witness testimony provided in the MSP report, Shawn Starkey was the first to arrive on the scene, though his EMS unit was not dispatched by 911. The Goldsboro Volunteer Fire Department, which was the first official EMS team to be dispatched, arrived on the scene at 7:33 p.m., according to Caroline County Emergency Services records. The second EMS team from the Ridgely Volunteer Fire Department arrived five minutes later.
Twenty-two minutes later, EMS personnel from Goldsboro departed in an ambulance with Black for the hospital.
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
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