Maryland towns to pay $5 million after teen killed in police encounter, family attorneys say

Anton Black died after being restrained by police officers in 2018.

ByKyla Guilfoil ABC logo
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
In this Jan. 28, 2019 file photo, Jennell Black, mother of Anton Black, looks at a collection of her son's belongings at her home in Greensboro, Md.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE-AP

Three towns on Maryland's Eastern Shore will pay $5 million to the family of a Black teenager who was killed in an encounter with police officers almost four years ago, according to the attorneys for the family.

Anton Black, a 19-year-old former star high school athlete, died on Sept. 15, 2018, after being restrained by three officers from the Centreville, Greensboro and Ridgley police departments who held him face down for about six minutes, pinning his shoulders, legs and arms, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Baltimore in late 2020.

"I had to watch those police officers kill my son, while he pleaded for his life and called out to me. 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," Black's mother, Janell Black, said in a statement Monday.

Under the settlement, the three towns have also agreed to make changes in their police departments' training of officers in order to avoid future deaths of this nature, according to the family's lawyers.

The changes include an overhaul in "use of force" policies for the three Eastern Shore municipalities, more resources for police confronting mental health emergencies and mandated officer training in de-escalation, intervention and implicit bias, the lawyers say. The policy changes also strengthen hiring transparency and public complaint reporting.

The federal lawsuit was filed after local prosecutors declined to pursue charges over Black's death. The police officers involved argued that they did not use excessive force and that drug use or Black's mental illness instead contributed to the cardiac arrest that ended his life.

On the night of his killing, a woman called 911 claiming that Black was fighting with another boy, according to the lawsuit. Another witness said the boys were engaged in "ordinary roughhousing," according to the lawsuit.

Black had been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder just months before the incident, the lawsuit said. At the time of the 911 call and police response, Black was enduring a mental health crisis, according to the lawsuit.

Black ran when confronted by a responding police officer, the lawsuit said. The other officers and a bystander then chased him, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit said that the officers used a taser to get him on the ground, where he was pinned face-down until he went unconscious.

One of the officers wrote in a court affidavit that he and another officer has to struggle with Black in order to keep him restrained and handcuffed.

That lawsuit argued that the officers involved used excessive force and then tried to cover up the killing by using false claims that Black was under the influence of marijuana that was laced with another drug, leading to the officers accusing Black of demonstrating "superhuman" strength.

A toxicology report released months after Black's death showed no drugs in his system, according to the lawsuit.

David Fowler, the state medical examiner at the time, released an autopsy four months after the incident that instead blamed congenital heart abnormalities for Black's death, classifying the death as an accident. Fowler said there was no evidence that the police officer's actions had caused the death.

Black's family is still pursuing litigation against the medical examiner's office and Fowler, who have been linked to the cover-up of Black's killing, according to the family's lawyers.

Lawyers representing Fowler and the medical examiner's office have not yet responded to ABC News' request for comment. A response from Fowler to the family's lawsuit said that his and his office's actions were "reasonable and legally justified." The response stated that Fowler is not liable for Black's death and neither are the officers involved.

"No one deserves to be killed like this," Black's sister, LaToya Holley, said in a statement Monday. "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."

The settlement reached with the towns also covered the family's claims against individuals involved in Black's death, including Thomas Webster IV, a former Greensboro police officer; Michael Petyo, the former chief of the Greensboro Police Department; Gary Manos, the former chief of the Ridgely Police Department; and Dennis Lannon, a former Centreville police officer.

Lawyers representing the defendants, and the three towns, did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

"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," Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black which joined the lawsuit against the three towns, said in a statement Monday.