DENTON, Maryland — The family of a Black teen who died during an altercation with police in September reportedly plans to file a request for an investigation by the Justice Department and secure an independent forensic and medical review.
Sources familiar with the case confirmed that a Justice Department representative has received all the available documents in the death of 19-year-old Anton Black, which is standard protocol in police-involved deaths. The Times-Record first reported the family’s plan to call for a federal probe.
After waiting more than 100 days for release of the body camera footage and report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), the family and community received both in less than 72 hours after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) made his first public comments.
The medical examiner found that Black’s death was an accidental cardiac arrest complicated by a bipolar disorder and reported use of Spice, a synthetic marijuana product which precipitated two outbreaks in D.C. last year.
The OCME finding and the release of a 38-minute video showing a delayed EMS response has caused divisions within the small town of Greensboro in Caroline County.
Accompanying release of the medical report and body camera footage, Caroline County State’s Attorney Joe Riley (R) issued a five-page document that said Black’s death is tragic, but does not necessarily establish legal grounds for prosecution.
“There is not currently enough evidence to establish probable cause to seek an indictment,” the release said. “The Office of the State’s Attorney for Caroline County remains committed to following the evidence in this matter wherever it leads and will evaluate all that is shared.”
Riley said he remains receptive to any independent evidence that legal counsel for Black’s family or the community can produce which would enable him to responsibly empanel a grand jury.
“I welcome a review by the Maryland Attorney General and by Governor Hogan,” Riley said.
Acknowledging Black was “an active member in our community” in his official statement, Riley has remained protective of the memory of Black in the face of unfounded accusations from a member of the family’s legal team.
In a statement released by the ACLU of Maryland, the activist legal organization is calling for an independent investigation by the Maryland state prosecutor, a position created in 1976 to investigate public corruption and misconduct. The prosecutor does not have the authority to investigate potential criminal behavior by law enforcement.
When asked about the potential involvement of Hogan or Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D), Debbie Jeon, legal director of ACLU of Maryland, referred The Informer to the organization’s public statement.
Mental health concerns
According to public records and Anton Black’s Instagram account, the teen was arrested for second-degree burglary in Charles County less than a month before his death and had also been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility in Dorchester County.
Following his release from the hospital, Black did not remove the medical bracelet from his right wrist. When the police observed Black, they described his behavior as schizophrenic. During a foot pursuit, Black was given limited verbal commands and was shocked with a stun gun, possibly violating protocol against use of such weapons on mental health patients.
Denton Councilwoman Doncella Wilson said Black’s death raises questions of how mental health issues are treated and addressed.
“For me, it continues to highlight the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community,” said Wilson, who is also a licensed social worker in Caroline County. “My relative went into a 72-hour hold and we knew nothing until a month later. The vulnerability around someone experiencing a mental health issue is not to be taken lightly.”
At Wilson’s direction, every public meeting to discuss the case across numerous Eastern Shore communities has been attended by mental health providers and information has been disseminated to those seeking counseling services in the wake of the teen’s death.
According to sources within Greensboro, a petition to name a park in Black’s honor has been discussed among residents who knew him as a star athlete and active member of a local teen group recognized in a proclamation by Hogan.
Plans are to present a petition to the town mayor, who worked alongside the teenager at the Walmart in Denton, and the town commission for consideration in coming weeks.
For updates and more information on the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, go to their Facebook group at www.facebook.com/CoalitionForJusticeForAntonBlack, Twitter @CoalitionAnton or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To support the ACLU of Maryland’s advocacy for the case, go to www.aclu-md.org or call 443-310-9946.