Several police-reform laws in Maryland go into effect Friday that criminal justice advocates say will increase accountability and transparency.
The biggest is Anton’s Law, named after 19-year-old Anton Black, who died while in police custody on the Eastern Shore in 2018.
Black’s family fought for several months to obtain police autopsy and other records in his death, but the law passed earlier this year in Annapolis allow civilians the right to request access and review police misconduct records labeled for decades as private, personnel records.
“That’s going to be helpful for families to get that closure they may be looking for, to get the information to hold government accountable and to have a thorough investigation,” Caylin Young, public policy director for the ACLU of Maryland, said Friday. “We’re excited about the future, in particular as it pays homage to Anton Black and his murder at the hands of the police down in Greensboro, Maryland. So now his family and others will be able to get more explanation and hold officers accountable.”
However, law enforcement officials can still withhold documents if they deem it would interfere with an ongoing investigation, invasion of privacy or right to a fair trial.
Many of the reforms increased after last year’s death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police and created international protests against police brutality and racism.
On Thursday outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Baltimore, members of Black’s family, family attorneys, advocates and state officials held a “Day of Remembrance” press conference.
“Policing is a public function, yet the actions of officers have been shrouded in a vail of secrecy for far too long,” said state Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), who sponsored the Anton’s Law legislation in the Senate. “With the public disclosure of these police records, agencies will be less inclined to ignore public complaints, to downgrade them and fail to render discipline when warranted. This is a landmark day.”
The case also highlights one of the former officers, Thomas Webster IV, had numerous use of force complaints as an officer in Delaware before he arrived in Maryland.
The state’s Police Training and Standards Commission decertified Webster as a Maryland police officer, but cleared of criminal charges in Black’s death.
One future goal for advocates, Carter and Del. Gabriel Acevero, who sponsored the bill in the House of Delegates, will be to end qualified immunity, which allows officers from facing civil liability while on duty.
“I hope we get some kind of justice. [Police] murdered my child,” said Antone Black, Anton’s father, on Thursday.
Other police reform measures that go into effect include:
• No-knock warrants can still be obtained by police, but except during emergencies, must be executed between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Besides the owner of the residence, the warrant must list any additional occupants that includes age, gender and whether anyone has “cognitive or physical disabilities or pets.” The March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, happened due to a no-knock warrant and created protests that intensified after Floyd’s death.
• Prohibiting law enforcement agencies to purchase military equipment from a surplus program.
• Repeal of the 1974 controversial Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights statute that permits civilians to serve on charging committees and trial boards to recommend discipline for an officer to a police chief.
• Use-of-force standards that require de-escalation training, officer intervening and document incidents.