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State to open investigation into hiring of Greensboro officer involved in Anton Black's death

State officials will investigate the hiring of the Greensboro police officer involved in the death of Anton Black, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman said Saturday.

Gerard Shields said the agency would launch an investigation into why a complete record of Thomas Webster IV’s policing history was not sent to the public safety department when state officials were asked to consider granting the officer police powers in Maryland so he could join the force in the small Eastern Shore town. The investigation will not begin until the Maryland State Police complete its probe, Shields said.

Shields said some of Webster’s personnel records — including incidents involving “use of force” — were not included in an application sent by the Greensboro police to the public safety department for certification consideration when Webster was hired. Shields said Webster was granted provisional certification in January 2018 and final approval last May.

The Maryland commission on police training will review the information and decide whether to decertify Webster, Shields said. Decertification would stop Webster from working as an officer in the state, he said.

“We believe that that information should have been provided with the certification application, and that’s why we want to go back and look,” Shields said.

Webster was recently placed on administrative leave by the Greensboro police after Black’s death in police custody Sept. 15. Greensboro allowed Webster to remain on the job for almost four months after the death of the African-American teen.

Webster shocked Black, 19, with a Taser after the teen fled when Webster approached him about a report of a kidnapping. According to body-camera footage released by the Greensboro police, Webster commanded Black to put his hands behind him, but Black fled. The officer was investigating an alleged kidnapping involving a 12-year-old who Black’s family later said was a close friend and never in danger.

Joining Webster in pursuit of Black were two officers from nearby police departments who were near the scene when the incident unfolded. The officers chased Black to his parents’ home, where Black got into a family member’s parked car, the video footage shows. The officers were also joined by a motorcyclist who was passing by.

Webster is seen on the video using his baton to break the car’s window and reaching in to shock Black with a Taser. After a struggle, the officers force Black to the ground on a ramp outside of his family’s home. Black then shows signs of medical distress and was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the death to be an accident, the result of “sudden cardiac death.” The autopsy report says the struggle contributed to Black’s death. The report also noted that Black had an underlying heart condition and a mental illness that were also factors.

Shields said the personnel records supplied to the public safety department did not include Webster’s full history. The file disclosed that Webster had been indicted on second-degree assault charges while working as an officer in Delaware. Dash-cam footage from that incident showed Webster kicking a black man in the head during a 2013 arrest. Webster was later found not guilty, according to news reports, and resigned with a $230,000 severance package.

“What the [Greensboro police] didn’t put in there was disciplinary filings in his record,” Shields said. “We found out about them after this incident happened.”

Shields said it is unclear if the Greensboro police failed to produce a full application or if the force was unaware of Webster’s complete policing history.

Webster could not immediately be reached for comment.

Greensboro’s police chief Mike Petyo recently left the department to join a force in Delaware. He said the decision was not related to Black’s death or the fallout that has followed it.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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