Greens­boro re­fuses to place of­fi­cer on leave

Of­fi­cer Thomas Web­ster IV will re­main on duty dur­ing probe into the death of An­ton Black

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­[email protected]­o­line­times­record.com

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 tox­i­col­ogy and au­topsy re­port is re­ceived from the Of­fice of the Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner.

The ini­tial re­port from the state po­lice said Black was ac­cused of try­ing to abduct a 12-yearold 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 Mary­land 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 Mar yland 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 Mar yland 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 Mar yland 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 re­por ts 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 ver y 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.

“It’s in­hu­mane. It makes it feel like you do not care.”

“I had faith in you guys,” Sor­rell said. “What does it hurt to be a hu­man be­ing and do the right thing?”

“You guys had the op­por­tu­nity to do the right thing on be­half of the fam­ily and the com­mu­nity by tak­ing (Web­ster) out of the field, a sim­ple so­lu­tion to a big prob­lem, and you failed miserably,” Ben Ca­hall said.

Ca­hall, who vol­un­teers in Caro­line County in mul­ti­ple ca­pac­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly to sup­port youth, said Black had been a mem­ber of a youth pro­gram Noon es­tab­lished to get young peo­ple in the town more in­volved.

“I’m not a res­i­dent of Greens­boro, but the youth I stand up for and want to pro­tect are res­i­dents of the town,” Ca­hall said. “I strongly en­cour­age you to re­think your de­ci­sion tonight.”

“The thing that dis­turbs me is that when a cit­i­zen breaks the law, they’re held to the let­ter of the law,” said An­dre Sor­rell, Black’s broth­erin-law. “But an of­fi­cer breaks the law and he’s not held to the let­ter of the law?

“We read your law. How is that?”

Ed­i­tor’s Note: The Star Demo­crat has made for­mal re­quests to Mary­land State Po­lice un­der the Mary­land Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Act for the body cam­era footage from Greens­boro Of­fi­cer Thomas Web­ster IV, An­ton Black’s au­topsy re­port and in­ves­ti­ga­tion doc­u­ments.

The Star Demo­crat also has sub­mit­ted for­mal re­quests un­der the Mary­land Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Act to the Town of Greens­boro for po­lice pol­icy and train­ing doc­u­ments.

PHOTO BY ABBY AN­DREWS

Richard Pot­ter, a leader of the Coali­tion for Jus­tice for An­ton Black, ad­dresses the Greens­boro mayor and coun­cil dur­ing their meet­ing Thurs­day, Jan. 3.

AN­TON BLACK

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