Anton Black’s death: $235,000 sought for state settlement
Maryland officials are slated to consider a $235,000 payment to settle litigation over how the state medical examiner’s office handled an autopsy for Anton Black, who died in 2018 after being restrained by police on the Eastern Shore.
If carried out, the settlement described in an agenda for the state’s Board of Public Works would resolve ”all claims” against Maryland officialsin a federal lawsuit alleging authoritiesviolated the 19-year-old’s civil rights in the events that led up to, and investigation that followed, Black’s in-custody death.
The agenda for the board’s Nov. 8 meeting says the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Attorney General’s Office are proposing a $100,000 payment to Black’s estate and $135,000 for legal fees to the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black to settle the remaining claims against the state’s forensic pathologists, who the lawsuit says was improperly influenced by police while investigating Black’s death.
A number of defendants, including the officers who chased Black through Greensboro and pinned him down soon before his death on Sept. 15, 2018, settled last year with Black’s family for $5 million — leaving only the claims against the medical examiner’s office. That settlement also required three Eastern Shore municipalities to overhaul their use-of-force policies, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said in a news release at the time.It was not clear if the pending settlement included any policy changes.
The ACLU, as well as the legal team representing Black’s estate, did not return requests for comment on the settlement being considered next week. Private attorneys representing two forensic pathologists in their individual capacities also did not return multiple requests for comment. The Attorney General’s Office, which represents the medical examiner’s office, also declined to comment.
This case also ultimately prompted lawmakers to pass policing reforms in the name of the Caroline County resident who was a soon-to-be father.
Black, a high school athlete, aspiring actor and model who was African American, died at Easton Memorial Hospital after the altercation with officers from the Greensboro, Centreville and Ridgely police departments. All of the officers involved were white.
After a woman called 911 to report seeing Black wrestle with a younger relative, the officers chased Black to his family’s home in a trailer park, fired a Taser at him, pinned him down on a ramp leading up to his home, cuffed him and stayed on top of him for almost six minutes.
The medical examiner’s office’s autopsy found that Black died of sudden cardiac arrest, listing stress associated with the struggle with police as a factor that contributed to his death but also noting that there was no evidence that the officers’ restraint asphyxiated Black.
The pending lawsuit alleges the medical examiner’s office delayed its release of Black’s autopsy report, which the plaintiffs say “was written to obfuscate the otherwise obvious and inescapable conclusion that the involved police officers caused Anton’s death.”
It goes on to state the forensic pathologist who performed Black’s autopsy, Dr. Russell Alexander, disregarded “well-established principles” of the profession, part of a “broader pattern of relying on police narratives of events” at the office.
Those findings, the lawsuit claims, led to the Caroline County State’s Attorney’s Office’s decision not to file criminal charges against the officers who were involved in the struggle with Black.
It also states the office purposefully withheld a toxicology report that would have refuted police’s narrative that Black was under the influence of drugs. Furthermore, it alleges forensic pathologists promoted the claim by sitting “idle and silent” with full knowledge that Black had no drugs in his system, even as media spread authorities’ account that Black smoked laced cannabis and was “exhibiting ‘superhuman’ strength.”
The medical examiner’s office and attorneys for the forensic pathologists named as defendants did not immediately return requests for comment on the settlement. They refuted the claims in legal filings, where attorneys wrote several of the allegations against the office were “not factual in nature” but were rather “a presentation of their medical theory” that Black’s cause and manner of death should have been ruled differently.
After last year’s settlement with local authorities, the remaining litigation involving the forensic pathologists was referred to mediation conferences starting in November 2022. By August, the parties had made their first steps toward a settlement, which is contingent on approval by the Board of Public Works, according to court filings. If approved, the $235,000 in pending payments will “settle all claims,” the board’s agenda said.
The parties, who are scheduled to give another status update two days after the board hearing, said in an October filing they would “report back” on the board’s decision and “will advise, if necessary, as to any additional steps.”