Searching for answers
Family, friends bring questions about teen’s death to Greensboro Town Council
GREENSBORO — Family and friends of Anton Black, the 19-year-old Greensboro man who died Sept. 15 while in police custody, packed the Greensboro Town Council’s meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, seeking answers about what happened the evening he died.
Mayor Joe Noon said the council was not allowed to answer questions about the incident, as the Maryland State Police Homicide Unit still is investigating it, but he encouraged people to voice their concerns.
Those who spoke expressed anger about what they believe was an overreaction by responding officers and frustration that the involved town police officer still is on duty, but mostly grief for the well-loved young man whose life was cut short.
“We didn’t come here for chaos; we came here for answers,” said Monique Sorrell, Black’s sister. “We want justice served. We’re not just here for Anton. We’re here for other young kids, too.”
The preliminary report from Mar yland State Police said Black was accused of trying to abduct a 12-year-old boy shortly after 7 p.m. Sept. 15. Police said an officer from the Greensboro Police Department was dispatched to Sunset Avenue in the area of the Choptank River bridge and allegedly saw Black forcibly restraining a boy.
Andre Sorrell, Monique Sorrell’s husband, said besides being Black’s brother-in-law, he also is related to the 12-year-old boy.
Sorrell said Black and the boy knew each other very well, and he does not understand why police thought Black was tr ying to abduct him.
“I feel officers overreacted to a situation that shouldn’t have escalated to that level,” Sorrell said. “I’m not going to assume anything, but it’s a dicey situation, and we’re not sure it should’ve been handled the way it was.”
The preliminary report said Black tried to flee, and the foot pursuit ended at Black’s home in a mobile home park in the 13000 block of Greensboro Drive. Black jumped into the driver’s seat of his vehicle, parked next to the family’s home, police said.
LaToya Holley, Black’s sister, said her brother ran because he was afraid.
“Whatever that cop said to him instilled fear in him,” Holley said. “He respected authority. He would not have just ran for no reason. He feared for his life so he chose flight.”
The preliminary report said Black then tried to exit the passenger side of his vehicle, and the officer deployed his department issued taser, striking Black, who continued to flee. Black allegedly bit two police officers and a civilian who was trying to assist police.
“I’m sure that did not make (police) happy they had to go after him, and things got out of hand really quick,” Holley said.
Police said Black eventually was placed in handcuffs and ankle restraints. Moments later, officers recognized Black was showing signs of medical distress, police said. They called for an ambulance and gave medical assistance on scene by administering Narcan and performing CPR.
Black was taken by ambulance to University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton, where he later was pronounced dead.
Black’s body was taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy. The autopsy did not reveal a cause of death, and no significant injuries were noted by the pathologist, the MSP said. Toxicology results are pending, along with the results of additional testing of vital organs.
An MSP spokesman said Sept. 17 the toxicology report could take four to six weeks to complete.
Black’s family has retained Rene Swafford, a Greensboro-based lawyer.
Upon completion of the investigation by the MSP, the case will be forwarded to the Caroline County State’s Attorney’s Office for review.
While the town council could not legally confirm which Greensboro police officer was involved in the incident, it did not refute it when Black’s family and friends said they knew it was Thomas Webster IV.
Webster is a former Dover, Del., officer, released by that city’s department in 2016, three years after a dash cam captured footage of Webster, who is white, kicking Lateef Dickerson, an unarmed black man, in the face and breaking his jaw, and two months after a jury acquitted Webster of a resulting assault charge.
The City of Dover agreed to pay Webster $230,000 over six years after his release from the police department, on the condition he never again would seek employment there, and paid Dickerson $300,000 to drop a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Webster was hired by Greensboro’s department early this year and began patrolling in April.
Berl Lovelace, president of the Caroline County chapter of the NAACP, reminded the council he questioned Webster’s hiring back in March and wrote each of them a letter urging them to reconsider it.
“Whatever the outcome of this investigation is, you could have avoided it,” Lovelace said. “A small police force like this, you don’t need someone with a past histor y that he had.
“My parents and my grandmother told me a long time ago, never say I told you so. This is one time I disregard what they said. Because I told you so.”
Mary Boyce of Greensboro, who said her granddaughter is pregnant by Black, asked why Webster was hired.
“... (W)e said let’s give him another chance,” Boyce said. “Well guess what. You gave him a chance. And this young man, my granddaughter’s baby’s father, will never hold his baby.”
When questioned why Webster was still on duty during the investigation, Town Manager Jeannette DeLude said the town attorney advised them not to put him on leave.
Doretha Dennis of Greensboro said the town had failed its citizens.
“As mayor, you failed us,” Dennis said. “Because my children are afraid. You allowed this man to come in, knowing his background, but you did not care. I’m disappointed.”
Black’s family said hurtful comments, overheard in real life and read on social media, about Black have added to the pain of losing him.
Before he graduated from North Caroline High School in 2016, Black was a star football player and track athlete.
His brother, Brandon Jackson, came to the meeting wearing all the medals Black won at track meets.
“When my brother played football, I saw the Greensboro police car right there. I’m sure they were cheering him on like you all cheered him on,” Holley said. “For people in this town to sit here and pretend like my brother was a monster, I can’t accept that.
“I feel as though everyone wants to demonize him, make him out to be this big, bad man that was trying to drag a little kid and do who knows what. That was not Anton. He was such a loving spirit.
“I don’t understand why I’m looking at Facebook and seeing the nastiest comments being posted by this community, talking about how he deserved to die.”
Noon said he knew Black personally, as he was a member of a teen group Noon organized.
He apologized for not reaching out to the family immediately after Black’s death, but he said the town attorney told him not to do so while the investigation continued.
“I don’t want you to think that we’re not feeling this up here (on the town council), because we are. But we have rules we have to go by,” Noon said. “We couldn’t even go to his funeral to show our support because of the investigation.
“I’m sorry, family, that I haven’t came and knocked on your door, but we were advised we can’t. I just want to say I feel your pain. I really do.”
Monique Sorrell said she felt a little better knowing the town council had not reached out because they were not allowed.
“It feels better to know you cared,” Sorrell said.
“We have to live with this the rest of our lives,” Sorrell said. “We have to remember his face, remember him in a coffin, and I don’t wish that on anybody.”
Friends and family of Anton Black came to the Greensboro Town Council’s meeting Thursday, Oct. 4, to ask questions about the teen’s death while in police custody.