The Board of Public Works last week approved a $235,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit brought by the family of Anton Black, the Caroline County teenager who died in 2018 after being restrained by police, against the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The decision came without comment during last Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. The settlement includes $100,000 for Black’s family and estate and $135,000 in attorney’s fees. The board, made up of Gov. Wes Moore, Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis, has the power to settle lawsuits against state employees.
Black, a Black 19-year-old, died Sept. 15, 2018, after an altercation with three white police officers and one white civilian. The four men chased Black, tased him and pinned him to the ground in front of his family’s home in Greensboro. One officer stayed on top of him for about six minutes, causing Black to lose consciousness and suffer cardiac arrest.
On Aug. 12, 2022, Black’s family received a partial settlement of $5 million following a federal lawsuit. The $5 million settlement ended the litigation between the police officers and the three Eastern Shore towns and their police departments. Wednesday’s settlement will resolve the litigation with the OCME, which was accused of obscuring the role of police in Black’s cause of death.
The founder of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, Richard Potter, said this settlement is the first step of a larger process of increasing accountability in the police departments, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The previous settlement led to the passing of Anton’s Law in 2021, which declassifies police disciplinary records, making them accessible under the Maryland Public Information Act.
“The best frontline approach to eliminating harm is increasing accountability within,” Potter said in the news release. “That is why I hope that with this settlement agencies will begin to recognize their own wrongdoings, catch them and change them before they cause harm.”
Potter called for a “sense of shared ownership” brought about through “trust and mutual accountability, with police confronting their own biases about mental illness, committing to de-escalation, and truly serving a diverse community.”
The award approved by the board will settle all claims against the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, according to the BPW.
The lawsuit from the family of Black and the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black alleges that the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report “was written to obfuscate the otherwise obvious and inescapable conclusion that the involved police officers caused Anton’s death by interfering with his ability to breathe.”
The autopsy report, which was not released until four months after the teen’s death, found that Black’s heart had failed suddenly due to a heart condition. The report found no evidence that restraint by law enforcement significantly contributed to Black’s death. According to the lawsuit, the autopsy report said Black’s bipolar disorder was a “significant contributing condition” of his death.
The autopsy was performed months before Dr. David Fowler stepped down as the state’s chief medical examiner. Following his resignation, Fowler testified in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, saying that George Floyd’s cause of death could not be determined.
Fowler’s testimony prompted an audit by the Office of the Attorney General of the autopsies performed on those who died in police custody during Fowler’s tenure. Over 1,300 deaths in custody during Fowler’s tenure were examined by a panel of experts, who singled out 100 cases of those cases for deeper review. The audit, announced by the Office of Attorney General in May 2021, is still ongoing.