Greensboro won’t place officer on leave after teen’s death
GREENSBORO — After the family of Anton Black came to Greensboro’s town meeting Thursday, Jan. 3, to again request the town place on leave with pay the police officer involved in the incident last Sept. 15 that ended in Black’s death, Greensboro’s mayor and council decided not to do so.
The decision was announced after the mayor and council discussed the request with the town’s lawyer and police chief in a 90-minute closed session.
Mayor Joe Noon offered no explanation for why Greensboro Officer Thomas Webster IV will remain on duty during the investigation into Black’s death, which is being conducted by the Maryland State Police, but said he and the council will revisit the request once the complete toxi- cology and autopsy report is received from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The initial report from the state police said Black, who grew up in Kent County, was accused of trying to abduct a 12-year-old boy shortly after 7 p.m. Sept. 15. An officer from the Greensboro Police Department was dispatched and allegedly saw Black forcibly restraining a boy.
After a foot pursuit, police said, the officer deployed his department-issued taser, striking Black, who continued to flee.
Police said Black eventually was apprehended and placed in handcuffs and ankle restraints. Moments later, he 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 Mary- land Shore Medical Center at Easton, where he later was pronounced dead.
On Thursday, during the open meeting before the closed session, several of Black’s family and friends spoke about their frustration with the lack of information, nearly four months after the 19-year-old Greensboro resident’s death and three months after they first came to the council during its October meeting.
“We are here again today because we are still looking for answers that we’re not getting,” said Monique Sorrell, Black’s sister.
Noon said no one, including the town, had received the report from the medical examiner.
“We know as much as you know,” he said.
Noon, Lyndsey Ryan, the town’s attorney, and Greensboro Police Chief Michael Petyo said they had contacted the medical examiner’s office, trying to find out why the report, originally projected to take four to six weeks to complete, was taking unusually long.
“We are just as discouraged as you are, as far as the medical examiner’s office goes,” Petyo said, adding Maryland State Police investigators also are contacting the office regularly to ask about the report. “We do not know why it’s taking so long.”
Petyo said once the report, which will determine the cause and manner of Black’s death, is released, the investigation will be concluded, so it can be reviewed by both the Caroline County Office of the State’s Attorney and federal prosecutors.
Black’s family then asked why footage from Webster’s body camera has not been released to the public, particularly since that footage was shown to Berl Lovelace, president of the Caroline County chapter of the NAACP, before it was made available to Black’s family.
Petyo said he would contact state police investigators the next day to ask about making that footage public.
Black’s family then asked why Webster was not placed on administrative leave with pay immediately following the incident.
Petyo said upon immediate review of the incident by himself, Caroline County State’s Attorney Joe Riley and the Maryland State Police’s homicide unit, the decision was made on the scene that no one involved should be placed on administrative leave.
Webster is a former Dover, Del., officer, released by that city’s police 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 in early 2018 and began patrolling in April, amid protests from town residents.
Richard Potter, a leader of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, said Webster is an imminent threat and danger to the Greensboro African-American community.
Potter read from the Maryland Code of Public Safety, which says a police chief may impose emergency suspension with pay if in the best interest of the public and the law enforcement agency.
“The initial lack of response by failing to place Officer Webster on administrative leave is incomprehensible, and lacks professional leadership and respect for the investigative process,” Potter said.
Potter then read from the Greensboro Police Department’s manual, which states officers should be given reasonable paid administrative leave, allowed by the Maryland Code of Public Safety, after being involved in a shooting or death, and it will be the responsibility of the supervisor to make schedule adjustments to accommodate that leave.
“Therefore, under your policies, the GPD manual, we strongly encourage Officer Wesbter be placed on administrative leave with pay after the meeting tonight,” Potter said.
Potter also recommended the formation of a diverse Citizens Review Board to hear alleged violations by sworn police officers related to use of force, unbecoming conduct, arrest, search and seizure, and arbitrary profiling. The board also would serve in an advisory role to the chief of police, town manager and town council, and make reports to the public.
Potter said a similar request was made in March 2018 in response to Webster’s hiring, that has not been addressed.
Finally, Potter asked that any officer employed by the town’s police department be required to attend ongoing professional development in diversity and inclusion, and recommended training facilitated by Bernard Demczuk, Ph.D., of Preston, who already is giving such training in Washington, D.C., to police from across the nation and FBI agents.
“I know you want to do the right thing,” Demczuk said. “We’d be more than thrilled to be able to help you in this process of training.”
After the open meeting, Noon called for a closed session with Ryan and Petyo, to discuss the request to place Webster on leave.
When the mayor and council reconvened in open session 90 minutes later, Noon announced Webster would not be placed on leave.
Ryan said the council did not have to comment further, as it as a personnel matter.
Black’s family was stunned by the decision.
“What we’ve asked for, you’ve chosen to ignore it,” said La Toya Holley, Black’s sister.
“We’ve been very patient,” she said. “My brother is in the ground, his daughter will never know him, and you know him, and you choose to do nothing tonight for someone you know, a young man that replied to you, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir.’ You choose to sit there and do nothing.
“We asked for pay. That was not unreasonable. We did not ask you not to allow (Webster) to be able to feed his family, even though we will never see my brother again, and you sit here and act like it’s OK.
“My brother is dead because of the choices you guys made (to hire Webster), and you are still sitting here making the wrong choices. You live here and continue to allow this nonsense to go on, when you all had a hand in it. My brother’s blood is on your hands, too. His innocent blood is on your hands.”