Family of black man, 19, who died after being held to ground by Maryland cops slam police for arrest
The family of a 19-year-old black man who died in Maryland police custody in 2018 says his “unreal and unnecessary” death divided the community along racial lines.
Anton Black died after being chased by white police officers and held to the ground for six minutes outside his family’s home in rural Greensboro.
Now, nearly eight months after a judge refused to quash the family’s lawsuit because police acted with excessive force, Black’s parents are speaking out.
“My son was George Floyd before George Floyd,” his father, Antone Black, told NBC Dateline. “I saw him begging for his life. You know, He’s yelling “Mommy.” They never moved. They never got rid of him.’
Dateline launched a year-long investigation into Black’s death and its parallels to Floyd’s murder. The one-hour special report, What Happened to Anton Black?, airs Friday at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.
Anton Black, 19, (pictured) died in September 2018 after being chased by white police officers and held to the ground for six minutes outside his family’s home in rural Greensboro, Maryland
Black died on September 15, 2018 after an altercation with the Greensboro Police Department on the porch of his mother’s home.
“He’s standing at his mother’s door. All he wanted was to go home. He’s home and you can’t get rid of him? That’s not right,” Antone told Dateline. “He didn’t attack anyone. He didn’t rob a bank. He didn’t kill anyone.’
“When I opened the door, why didn’t they leave it open?” his mother, Jenell Black, recalled. “I’m standing there.”
Body-camera footage of the incident showed former Officer Thomas Webster IV confronting the teen in response to a 911 call that reported a man roughly dragged a child onto the road in a head lock.
The boy, a friend of Black’s family, told the officer that the teen was “schizophrenic” and was acting strangely.
When Webster ordered him to put his hands behind his back and tell him he had been arrested, Black said, “I love you.” He then turned around, jogged back to his childhood home, and got into a vehicle.
Webster smashed the car window with a baton, then used a stun gun on Black. Later, a struggle ensued on the porch.
Black lost consciousness when Webster and two other officers – former Ridgley Police Chief Gary Manos and Centerville Police Officer Dennis Lannon – tried to stop him. Manos and Lannon were off duty when they tried to help Webster arrest Black.
“It just seemed so unreal and unnecessary to me,” family friend Christina Robinson told Dateline. “When I saw him go limp in the video, they still couldn’t get rid of him.”
Anton Black’s father, Antone (left), recalls “begging him for his life” while the police stopped him. Antone said: ‘My son was George Floyd before George Floyd’
Greensboro police confronted Black, 19, in September 2018 while he was “in the midst of a mental health crisis,” according to the family’s lawsuit. Black is depicted on the left on body camera images of the incident
Black lost consciousness after being stopped by three officers on his mother’s porch
An autopsy report on Black’s death was released in 2019, two days after Maryland government Larry Hogan expressed frustration at the pace of the investigation.
The state coroner’s autopsy report lists Black’s death as an accident and said Black’s congenital heart disease, mental illness and stress from battle likely contributed to his death.
But an expert cited in the family’s lawsuit, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University, concluded that suffocation was the cause of Black’s death.
dr. David Fowler — who was Maryland’s chief medical examiner until his retirement in 2019 and responsible for the accuracy and integrity of Black’s autopsy — also testified as a defense expert in Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of Floyd.
Robinson blames the police for Black’s death, but knows that many of their white community members are siding with the officers.
“Did it split the community?” NBC anchor Lester Holt probed. “By racial lines?”
“Certainly,” Robinson replied.
“When I opened the door, why didn’t they leave it open?” his mother, Jenell Black, recalled. ‘I’m standing there’
Black’s death fueled calls for an independent investigation. Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill named after Black that expands public access to data on police disciplinary cases.
Jason Johnson, chairman of The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, told Dateline that although Black’s death was a tragedy, he saw “no indication of malice” in the body camera images and thought it demonstrated “the professional standard.”
However, many have questioned Webster’s actions, especially since he had a history of using violence with suspects who had already been subdued.
In 2013, while serving as an officer in Dover, Delaware, Webster was charged with assault for kicking Lateef Dickerson, a black man, in the face while already restrained. That incident was captured on dashcam video.
He was acquitted of the assault charge in 2014. Months after the verdict, Webster was awarded a $230,000 severance payment and severance pay from the city of Dover.
He also received wages and benefits, including his pension, for missed work during the case. In February 2018, Webster was hired as an officer for the Greensboro Police Department.
“I could tell you with some certainty that Thomas Webster shouldn’t have been a police officer in Greensboro at all,” Johnson added, after being pressured by Holt.
No charges were filed against Webster in connection with Black’s death.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake refused to quash the family’s lawsuit in January 2022, alleging police used excessive force against Black.
Blake said in her 27-page statement that the bodycam footage of the deadly encounter does not conclusively contradict the family’s claims that police used excessive force against Black.
The judge concluded that a reasonable jury could “come to more than one conclusion” about whether officers used a reasonable amount of force against Black.
She also said that a person’s mental health should be considered when using force by the police. Black had been diagnosed with a severe form of bipolar disorder and was hospitalized less than two weeks before his death.
The Greensboro Police Handbook suggests Webster was not trying to de-escalate or overreact to someone in the throes of a mental health crisis when he smashed the car window and used the tranquilizer gun on Black, the judge concluded.
She said the officers could renew their requests to dismiss the claims of excessive force in the lawsuit after they finish sharing evidence with plaintiffs.
It is unclear whether Webster, Manos and Lannon have since continued to provide the requested evidence or have renewed their request to dismiss the lawsuit.