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Prosecutor rejects call of Anton Black's family for grand jury investigation of his death

Graphic warning: Video depicts a fatal confrontation with police. Greensboro Police Department body-worn camera footage of Anton Black's arrest and subsequent cardiac arrest. Video courtesy of Greensboro PD

Caroline County’s state’s attorney said Thursday that there is not enough evidence to indict anyone in the death of Anton Black, the 19-year-old who died of cardiac arrest after a struggle with police in September, nor will he agree to the request of Black’s family that a grand jury investigate the case.

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A lawyer for the family, Timothy F. Maloney, said they will ask the Department of Justice’s civil rights division to review Black’s death.

“There was no good reason for these officers to inflict this degree of force on Anton Black, or even to arrest him,” the family said in a statement released by attorneys Thursday.

“There was no reason to tase him. There was no reason for the officer to tackle him, restrain him and shackle him. There was no reason to inflict 43 blunt trauma wounds on Anton Black,” the statement said. “There was no reason for Anton Black to die.”

Black’s death in September has roiled the small town of Greensboro in Caroline County as family, friends and civil rights groups have demanded answers for how the young man, chased and restrained by police, died in their custody. His family said they will conduct an independent review of the evidence and asked for a grand jury to investigate as well.

But Thursday evening, Caroline County State’s Attorney Joseph Riley said that there is insufficient evidence to indict or present the case to a grand jury.

“I have an ethical obligation to only put cases in front of the grand jury that I believe are supported by probable cause,” Riley told The Baltimore Sun. “It would be unethical of me to put a case in front of the grand jury without probable cause, believing that they would not return [an] indictment simply to remove pressure on myself or this office.”

Riley said the investigation remains open. “If I am provided new information,” he said, “that could potentially change my position.”

In the report of the autopsy conducted on Black, the medical examiner concluded he died of sudden cardiac arrest, and that the stress of a struggle with police as well as an underlying cardiac condition and a reported bipolar disorder were contributing factors. The medical examiner determined the death was accidental.

“There’s nothing accidental about the police conduct,” said Maloney, a former state delegate.

Maloney points out that the autopsy report, given to the family Wednesday, shows Black had at least 43 blunt force trauma wounds from the encounter. But the report also notes that there is no evidence from police interviews and body camera video that officers struck Black or had force applied to his neck.

Black’s sister, LaToya Holley, 37, said the autopsy's findings further fuel the family's desire to get justice for Black.

"It's not going to be overlooked as long as we have breath in our bodies," she said. "We’re going to make sure everyone knows what really happened to Anton. We need more eyes on this."

Greensboro Police Chief Mike Petyo provided a link to police body camera footage to The Sun and said it would be posted on the town’s website Friday morning. It was originally going to be released to the public on Wednesday, but Riley said he wanted to wait until he received the autopsy report.

The video shows Black being approached after a report of a kidnapping on Sept. 15. Black was with a child who relatives said was a close friend and part of the family and someone who was not in danger.

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In the video, Officer Thomas Webster IV tells Black to put his hands behind him, but he ran. Other officers and a passing motorcyclist get involved in trying to stop Black, who runs to his family’s home in a trailer park and gets into a parked car.

As seen in the video, Webster smashes the car’s window with his baton and uses a Taser on Black, who gets out of the vehicle’s passenger side. Officers struggle with him as he tries to go up a ramp to his family’s home, with one officer appearing to lie across him. There is a cacophony of voices: Police say he’s under arrest, Black tells his mother — who has emerged from the home — that he loves her and she echos the officers’ calls for him to stop struggling. They put him in handcuffs and leg shackles, and Black eventually becomes unresponsive, prompting a call for emergency medical services. Officers begin giving him CPR and administer Narcan, which is used to block the effects of opioids. Black is placed in an ambulance as his stunned mother watches and asks if he started breathing again.

“Not yet,” someone says. “They’re still working on him.”

The autopsy report showed no controlled dangerous substances. Riley said in a statement that Narcan was used in case Black’s unresponsiveness resulted from an overdose.

Maloney said that regardless of the autopsy report noting a heart problem and referring to a mental health issue, the issue is the amount of force police used on Black.

“Even if he had a congenital heart problem, Maryland law does not excuse excessive force by police officers,” he said.

The family’s statement also questions why the autopsy report delves into Black’s mental health.

“The medical examiner performs pathological examination of the deceased, not mental examinations of the living,” the statement said.

“In any event, Anton Black did not die because of any mental condition,” the statement said. “He died because the stress of multiple blunt force trauma inflicted on him as part of a wrongful arrest and wrongful use of excessive force.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

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