Anton Black would be 24 years old this year.
Racism rampant in policing and the institutions that prop it up, seeking to justify brutal, biased actions by officers, are what led to the tragic killing of Anton Black. The gravity of this situation cannot be overstated. A mother, father, sister, and daughter had to bury their loved one who had such a promising future. It’s time for people and institutions to be held accountable for brutal police actions and for this systemic racism to change. Anton Black’s life mattered.
Below you will find a timeline tracing the cascading dominos from the moment Anton was stopped by police to his killing, and all that happened after. You’ll get an in-depth look at how this killing happened, the advocacy his grieving family undertook in its aftermath, the creation of a coalition to support the family and their advocacy, the legal reforms spurred by this killing, and the lawsuits that are challenging those responsible for the killing and those trying to undermine police accountability in Maryland.
The Killing of Anton Black
On September 15, 2018, five years ago, Eastern Shore teenager Anton Black died when police chased, tased, and pinned him facedown for six minutes. They killed a former champion athlete, rising model and actor, father-t0-be, brother, son, and uncle. More importantly, he was a person whose life mattered.
The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black is Created
The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black was created to seek justice for the police killing of Anton and to promote the overall goal of police accountability. In the immediate aftermath of Anton’s death, the Coalition worked persistently to investigate the involved officers and demand accountability through local advocacy and by developing a legal challenge. The Coalition highlighted how local officials hired the officer who first chased Anton over the objections of the Black community and despite a long, documented record of prior violence.
After two years, the Coalition and family sued those responsible for the killing of Anton Black. Their efforts also contributed to the criminal prosecution and decertification of one of the officers who killed Anton Black and the chief who falsified records.
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner releases autopsy report and rules Anton Black’s death accidental
After Anton Black was killed, the Office Chief Medical Examiner released an autopsy report that claimed Anton’s death was accidental, instead of dying from asphyxiation from being restrained.
The Killing of George Floyd
The killing of George Floyd shook and angered the world. As details of this vicious killing poured in, the family, Coalition and other advocates realized that the killings of Anton Black and Mr. Floyd were chillingly similar in many ways. Later developments causing the two cases to converge– were both shockingly unexpected and yet true to Form. Skip to The Trial of Dereck Chauvin.
Coalition and Advocates Write a Letter to Members of the Maryland General Assembly
The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black joined advocates across the state, pushing hard for transparency and accountability from local officials, as well as statewide legislative changes to address systemic racism within police institutions. Because of their diligent commitment, a law would be passed three years later named after Anton Black. Anton’s Law opens to the public police misconduct files to reveal how those cases were investigated and help ensure officers who are a danger to the community can be identified and held accountable.
On December 17, 2020, two years of advocacy later, Anton Black’s family and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Baltimore, with the support of the ACLU of Maryland. Among other claims, they charged an unconstitutional police killing and a cover-up involving a decertified officer with a long record of abuse, two Eastern Shore police chiefs – one of whom pled guilty to criminal misconduct in a related case – three small towns, and the Office of the State Medical Examiner, including David Fowler, whose official reports justified and created a public narrative that let the officers get away with the killing. The Medical Examiner’s office falsely claimed Anton Black died of natural causes rather than the actions of the officers chasing, tasing and pinning him down until he couldn’t breathe.
The Trial of Derek Chauvin
When George Floyd’s killer, police officer Derek Chauvin, went to trial in Minneapolis in 2021, a witness familiar to Marylanders enraged many Americans with “expert” testimony seeking to excuse Chauvin’s murder of Mr. Floyd – the same Maryland Medical Examiner whose official reports sought to justify and advance a police-generated narrative designed to allow police officers to get away with the killing of Anton Black.
Dr. David Fowler testified on behalf of now-convicted murderer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his body weight on a vulnerable George Floyd until he couldn’t breathe and died. Fowler’s testimony deviated so far from professional standards that it infuriated the medical community, causing more than 400 medical officials from across the country to urge the U.S. Attorney General and the State of Maryland to launch an investigation into Fowler’s handling of custodial deaths over his two decades as Maryland Medical Examiner.
Anton’s Law, in honor of Anton Black, is passed
After years of advocacy from the family, the Coalition, and many other advocates, they achieved victory in 2021: During the legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed Anton’s Law.
Officers who killed Anton Black argue controversial “qualified immunity” defense in an attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed
“Qualified immunity” is a court-created legal doctrine aimed at protecting individual government officials from personal liability in baseless lawsuits. But, over the years, this once-limited doctrine has expanded beyond recognition, by requiring people who are wronged to prove that the conduct violated “clearly established law.” Now, police and other government officials routinely seek to use this immunity as a sword to prevent accountability for wrongdoing and consequences for illegal actions, no matter how extreme or reckless. The family and supporters of Anton Black, supported by police practices and medical examiners experts, filed their opposition after officers tried to evade their responsibility using this controversial defense.
Would you like to read more about this issue? Here is our press release the police's attempt to use "qualified immunity" defense.
The State of Maryland and Dr. Fowler file Motions to Dismiss Anton Black lawsuit
In May of 2021, the State of Maryland and Dr. Fowler attempted to dismiss Anton’s lawsuit and escape accountability, relying in part on immunity claims similar to those put forward by police. The Coalition called for the judge to reject them.
State Creates Task Force to Investigate In-Custody deaths under tenure of Dr. David Fowler
In response to nationwide outcry at Dr. David Fowler’s false testimony about the nature of George Floyd’s killing by Derek Chauvin, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Governor Larry Hogan established a process to review medical examiner findings in custodial deaths that occurred during Fowler’s long tenure as Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner.
Anton Black Day of Remembrance
Anton Black’s Day of Remembrance was celebrated by the family and supporters. The family and Coalition held a press conference for that special day.
Anton’s Law Enacted
After three years of the family, advocates, the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black and the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability advocating for legislative change to increase transparency and help expose systemic racism within policing institutions, Anton’s Law passed. It was initially vetoed by former Governor Hogan, but ultimately the veto was overridden. Anton’s Law ensures that the public has access to internal police discipline and complaint records. These records were denied to the public when Anton Black was killed, which made it extremely difficult to track police misconduct.
Judge Denies Qualified Immunity to the Officers Who Killed Anton Black and Rejects the Defendants’ Attempts to Escape Accountability
In 2021, the defendants tried to escape responsibility for the killing of Anton Black, asserting various immunity defenses from civil rights liability, and moving to dismiss the lawsuit. In 2022, the judge rejected all of the defendants’ motions. As one aspect of this ruling, the court rejected qualified immunity defenses raised by each of the officers involved in Anton’s death, as well as such defenses raised by the medical examiners. The family’s legal pursuit of justice for Anton continued.
Montgomery County and Fraternal Order of Police of Montgomery County Enter Secret Deal
Montgomery County – supposedly one of Maryland’s most progressive local governments, but also one long beholden to the Fraternal Order of Police – entered a secret deal with the FOP to bypass Anton’s Law and undermine the newly-restored public access to records of police misconduct. The deal requires the County to notify the FOP and involved officers of a records request before the government produces records and to allow them to “preview” records before they are released – so that they can block their release if they don’t like what they say.
Anton’s Family Are Featured in an Hour-Long National Special
NBC Dateline anchor Lester Holt hosted special nationwide broadcast titled "What Happened to Anton Black?"
Milestone Settlement is Reached with Police in Anton Black’s Case
In August, family members and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black announced a partial resolution for their lawsuit charging police and municipal officials with the unconstitutional killing of Anton Black. The landmark Black v. Webster settlement is different than most in police killing cases in that it’s focus is to implement reforms aimed at saving other families from future police violence, while also providing monetary relief for the family’s devastating loss.
For years, the Black family and Coalition passionately advocated for change and accountability to prevent future tragedies like Anton’s. Meanwhile, the part of the case involving allegations of conspiracy and cover up by the Office of the Maryland Medical Examiner continues.
Deep Dive into Policing in America
During a special edition of Meet the Press, NBC’s Chuck Todd does a deep dive into policing in America and the killing of Anton Black.
Police Attempt to Bypass Anton’s Law
After Montgomery County and the Fraternal Order of Police of Montgomery County entered a secretive side deal to impede disclosure obligations that were required by Anton’s Law, they worked together to file a lawsuit sealed from public view.
Want to take action too? Sign our action alert to demand that Anton’s Law be protected in Montgomery County.
Coming to the Defense of Anton’s Law
The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) moved promptly to intervene in this dangerous legal effort by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 (FOP) in Montgomery County that seeks to invalidate Anton’s law and block access to records of police misconduct that should be publicly accessible. In taking this action, MCJPA seeks to protect other families from the grief and tragedy Anton’s family suffered, by defending the community transparency protections that are at the core of Anton’s Law. MCJPA asked court to allow it to participate as a party in the case, to unseal proceedings, and ultimately to argue for rejection of the FOP case on its merits.
In Calvert County, alongside other activists, the ACLU of Maryland also swiftly challenged the Calvert County Sheriff with a lawsuit for their use of burdensome fees to block the public’s requests for access to public policing records. All over the state, the ACLU of Maryland and activists are ensuring that Anton’s Law is honored.
OCME Audit Design Team Announces Detailed Review of Approximately 100 In-Custody Deaths Under David Fowler’s Tenure as Chief Medical Examiner
The OCME Audit Design Team, created to investigate the failures of the State Medical Examiner over the past two decades, released an interim report in October describing the need for a detailed, comprehensive investigation of about 100 of in-custody deaths during tenure of David Fowler, the former Maryland Chief Medical Examiner. The report explicitly lays out the basic forensic standards that should be followed. In many ways, the proposed standards mirror the recommendations made by the family of Anton Black and the Coalition.
Anton Black’s Family and the Coalition Update Lawsuit to Reveal New Evidence
Anton Black’s family and the Coalition made new allegations based on extensive new evidence to show wrongdoing by State medical examiners seeking to cover up police responsibility in the killing of Anton Black. The evidence details how the medical examiners made knowingly false allegations to allow the police and government to get away without any accountability for the killing of 19-year-old Anton as well as other Black and disabled victims.
This new evidence comes as part of an update to the family’s original lawsuit following settlement with the police officers and departments involved. It charges that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, under David Fowler’s leadership, took part in a pattern of misrepresenting facts and concealing the truth in police-involved deaths. We contend that medical examiners purposefully misled the public with false conclusions cloaked in medical terminology and purported uncertainty.
The Maryland Coalition for Justice for Police and Accountability Urges Court to Reject Secrecy in FOP Lawsuit and Allow Coalition to Participate in the Case
The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability held a press conference to ask the court to unseal proceedings and to reject the FOP lawsuit.
Courts Grant the Right of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability to Intervene
On Feb. 24, 2023, Judge Karla Smith granted the right of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability to intervene in the Montgomery County FOP lawsuit.The judge told the Montgomery County that their agreement with the FOP to litigate the case in secret was improper. Judge also said the County does not adequately represent MCJPA’s interests. Now, MCJPA hopes that the court will reject the FOP’s lawsuit.
Want to see how we will defend Anton’s Law from attacks in Maryland? Are you waiting to see what accountability will happen with those cases being reviewed from the State Medical Examiner’s Office? Wondering what you can do now?
The first step is subscribing to our email list to receive the latest news on the legal cases and to know when your action is needed. One immediate action you can take is signing our action alert to defend Anton’s Law in Montgomery County. Want to spread the news about this case? One of our staff members wrote an opinion piece in Maryland Matters about Anton Black’s case. Read and share it on social media.
As the cases progress, we will continue updating our members and followers. Thanks for your commitment to police accountability and defending rights.