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Family of Anton Black, coalition seeking justice for his death, reach $5M settlement with Eastern Shore towns

René Swafford, an attorney for Anton Black’s family, demands justice at a news conference last fall while his mother, Jennell Black, looks on. Photo by Hannah Gaskill.

The family of Anton Black and a group seeking justice for the slain Eastern Shore teen who died after being held in police custody in 2018 announced Monday that they had reached a $5 million settlement with three Eastern Shore towns as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Family members and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black said the resolution of the portion of their federal court litigation charging police and municipal officials with the unconstitutional killing of Black goes far beyond providing monetary relief to Black’s family. They described the Black v. Webster settlement as a landmark case that also focuses on implementing police reforms.

The case of Black, a 19-year-old who died on Sept. 15, 2018, after being restrained by police officers on a ramp in front of his mother’s home in the Eastern Shore town of Greensboro, became a flash point for the police reform movement in Maryland.

“I had to watch those police officers kill my son, while he pleaded for his life and called out to me,” Jennell Black, Black’s mother, said in a statement Monday provided by the ACLU of Maryland, one of the members of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black. “There are no words to describe the immense hurt that I will always feel when I think back on that tragic day, when I think of my son.”

>> RELATED: See previous Maryland Matters coverage of the Anton Black case.

Black was chased and wrestled to the ground by three white police officers from different communities and a white civilian after being observed on a bridge putting a younger acquaintance in a headlock. Black fled the scene after being pursued by police officers. He died after officers fired a taser at him, pinned him down, handcuffed him, and sat on top of him for several minutes.

An autopsy later showed Black died of cardiac arrest.

In their federal lawsuit, filed in December 2020, Black’s family and the coalition claimed that excessive force and racial bias led to his death by “positional asphyxiation” and alleged that a cover-up followed involving the state medical examiner and police from the towns of Greensboro, Ridgley and Centreville.

Monday’s settlement was reached with the three towns along with two officers and two police chiefs from those communities. The family is continuing to pursue litigation against the Medical Examiner’s office.

According to the ACLU, the settlement includes reforms requiring the three local police departments to overhaul their use of force policies, upgrade their guidance for police officers confronting mental health emergencies, and require officer training in de-escalation, intervention and implicit bias. The settlement also requires more transparency in police hiring and is designed to make it easier for residents to file complaints against police officers.

Anton’s Law, a bill passed by the General Assembly in 2021 as part of a sweeping police reform package, makes internal police discipline and complaint records available to the public, erasing an exemption that had placed them off limits under the Maryland Public Information Act. Until Anton’s Law went into effect, members of the public often could not find out if police officers in Maryland had been disciplined for misconduct or were the subject of numerous complaints reviewed by internal police investigators, either in their current agencies or in prior jobs.

“The family and our coalition have worked tirelessly to bring accountability in Anton Black’s case and to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in our community again,” said Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black. “Today, we are hopeful that by reforming these local police departments, we will start to move a little closer in the right direction, away from white supremacy and closer to a nation of true equality and justice.”

Attorneys for the three municipalities and police officers could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. The state Attorney General’s office continues to represent the Medical Examiner’s office in that part of the Black family’s lawsuit.

The settlement was announced less than 72 hours after the TV show “Dateline NBC” aired a segment about the Black case.

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