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April 6, 2021

Experts Make Clear Anton Black Was Killed by Officers, Through Use of Excessive Force

GREENSBORO, MD – In a case eerily similar to the terrifying police killing of George Floyd, the family and supporters of Anton Black, a 19-year-old teenager who was having a mental health crisis when he was killed by police in a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, last night filed their opposition to an attempt by the officers who killed Anton to evade responsibility using the controversial “qualified immunity” defense. In 2018, Anton was chased, Tased, and pinned facedown by four white men, including a civilian wearing a Confederate motorcycle helmet, while he pleaded “Mommy, help” and told his mother he loved her as the officers forced his slight frame down and pressed his face, chest, and stomach to the ground for six minutes as he slowly died of positional asphyxiation.

“Our hearts are forever broken at the murder of Anton ... son, father, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend,” said Jennell Black, Anton Black’s mother, who witnessed the killing, which occurred at her home. “He died in a very inhumane and cruel manner at the hands of three policemen who were supposed to protect and serve.”

Last night, Anton’s family and supporters also filed affidavits from police practices and medical experts that make clear Anton’s killing was a homicide resulting from the police officers’ actions, not an accident attributable to any pre-existing medical condition. Rather, the experts attest, police actions were unreasonable and constituted excessive force on a child who was experiencing a mental health crisis and needed medical assistance rather than brutality. These actions included chasing young Anton down as he tried to reach safety at his home, forcefully shattering a car window with a police baton as he sought refuge in a disabled car in his driveway, Tasing him without warning, and restraining him facedown in front of his mother beneath the weight of four adult men. While being brutalized, Anton expressed love and thanks to his mother and asked for help throughout the officers’ assault on him.

“This is another classic example of when bad police officers inflict harm that leads to death of Black and Brown people that their defense is qualified immunity,” said Richard Potter of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black. “Where is the humanity, fairness and justice in qualified immunity for the individuals that they are supposed to protect and serve?” 

Public officials named as defendants in this case conspired to protect the officers involved from the consequences of their excessive use of force against Anton. Even as he died, the officers concocted a false narrative that was spoon fed to the Maryland State Police (MSP), the state agency charged with investigating Anton’s death, and the Maryland Medical Examiner. The Office of the Medical Examiner colluded with efforts to justify Anton’s murder by ruling that the officers were not responsible for Anton’s death. Instead, with no basis in medicine, the Medical Examiners alleged that bipolar disorder was a contributing factor. Notably, one of the Medical Examiners, Dr. David Fowler, sued by the Black family in connection with his false autopsy report for Anton Black, is serving as an expert witness for Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd on video. Just as Fowler claimed that Anton died of natural causes, he plans to testify that Chauvin did not cause George Floyd’s death and will seek to vindicate Chauvin, despite the contrary video evidence.

In last night’s filing, Anton Black’s family and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black make clear through the opinions of experts that the officers are not entitled to any form of immunity from suit. Affidavits from Dr. Francisco J. Diaz, a forensic pathologist, Dr. Tyrone Powers, an expert in the use of force and excessive force, and Dr. Jon Resar, a cardiologist and interventional cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, put forth expert evidence that the officers used excessive and ultimately lethal force against Anton in clear violation of his federal and state constitutional rights.

“What happened to Anton Black is not an isolated incident, in Maryland or this nation. Race definitely matters,” said René C. Swafford, Esq. “Here, in Maryland, the overwhelming majority of unarmed people killed by police are Black. Anton, unarmed, who posed no threat, who was cornered, afraid and experiencing a mental health episode, was killed by three white policemen. Armed white people, who stormed the nation’s capital on January 6, met with extremely low-key to non-existent police restraint. Justice will be served when the police are held accountable for their deliberate indifference for the sanctity of Anton’s young life.” 

“Qualified immunity is abhorrent to the protections that every citizen has a right to enjoy from police abuses as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Kenneth W. Ravenell of Ravenell Law. “Qualified immunity has for too long permitted police officers to kill mostly Black and Brown people and avoid all responsibility. Qualified immunity is a scourge on the fundamental rights of citizens. It is not surprising that these police officers are attempting to employ qualified immunity to avoid liability for killing Anton Black. We are fighting for Anton and our pleadings today forcefully explain in detail why the police cannot avoid liability by attempting to hide behind qualified immunity. We strongly believe that the Court will deny the officers’ motion to dismiss claim which attempts to skirt justice for their actions.”

In December 2020, Anton’s family and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Baltimore, charging an unconstitutional police killing and a cover-up involving a decertified officer with a long record of abuse, particularly against Black people, two Eastern Shore police chiefs, and a Town Manager – one of whom has since pled guilty to criminal misconduct – three small towns, and the State Medical Examiner.

Anton Black’s family is represented by Kenneth W. Ravenell, René C. Swafford, Leslie Hershfield, and Tomeka Church. The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black is represented by the ACLU of Maryland: Senior Staff Attorney Sonia Kumar, Legal Director Deborah Jeon, Staff Attorneys Ieshaah Murphy and Tierney Peprah, with the support of Intake & Investigations Manager Gina Elleby and Legal Program Associate Jay Jimenez; John A. Freedman, Ryan D. Budhu, Joseph P. Klemme, Jayce Born, John F. Mezzanote, Jr., and Florence Bryan of Arnold & Porter.

View the legal complaint and learn more here.