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

Three cities on the east coast of Maryland will pay $5 million to the family of a black teenager who was killed in an encounter with police officers nearly four years ago, according to family lawyers.

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

“I had to watch these police officers kill my son while he was pleading for his life and calling me. There are no words to describe the immense pain I will always feel thinking back on that tragic day when I think of my son,” Black’s mother, Janell Black, said in a statement Monday.

According to the family’s lawyers, as part of the settlement, the three cities also agreed to make changes to the training of their police officers to prevent future deaths of this type.

The changes include an overhaul of “use of force” policies for the three East Coast communities, more resources for police who deal with mental health emergencies, and training assigned officers in de-escalation, intervention and implicit bias, the say Lawyers. The policy changes also strengthen hiring transparency and public reporting of grievances.

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

On the night of his murder, a woman called 911 and claimed Black had been fighting with another boy, according to the lawsuit. Another witness said the boys were engaged in “ordinary scuffles,” according to the lawsuit.

Black was 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 in a mental health crisis, according to the lawsuit.

Black ran away 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 officers tasered him to the ground, where he was held face down until he passed out.

One of the officers wrote in an affidavit to the court that he and another officer had to fight Black to hold him down and handcuff him.

That lawsuit argued that the officers involved used excessive force and then attempted to cover up the murder by making false claims that Black was under the influence of marijuana laced with another drug, which resulted in that officers accused 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 coroner at the time, released an autopsy four months after the incident that instead blamed congenital heart defects for Black’s death and ruled the death an accident. Fowler said there was no evidence the officer’s actions caused the death.

The Black family is still pursuing a lawsuit against the coroner’s office and Fowler, who have been linked to the cover-up of Black’s murder, according to family attorneys.

Attorneys representing Fowler and the coroner’s office have not yet responded to ABC News’ request for comment. A response from Fowler to the family’s lawsuit said his and his office’s actions were “reasonable and legally justifiable.” The response states that Fowler is not liable for Black’s death and neither are the officers involved.

“Nobody deserves to be killed like that,” Black’s sister LaToya Holley said in a statement Monday. “Anton Black didn’t deserve this. He will never be forgotten. He was such a sweet, kind and loving person. A part of him will always be in my heart.”

The settlement reached with the cities also included the family’s claims against those involved in Black’s death, including Thomas Webster IV, a former Greensboro police officer; Michael Petyo, former chief of the Greensboro Police Department; Gary Manos, former chief of the Ridgely Police Department; and Dennis Lannon, a former Centerville police officer.

Attorneys representing the defendants and the three cities did not immediately respond to ABC News requests for comment.

“Today we hope that by reforming these local police departments we will begin to move a little closer in the right direction, away from white supremacy and closer to a nation of true equality and justice,” said Richard Potter, a member of the Coalition for justice for Anton Black, who joined the lawsuit against the three cities, said in a statement Monday.

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