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Anton Black's family frustrated as 'Anton's Law' sits in drawer and another police transparency bill advances

LaToya Holley, Anton Black’s sister, speaks at a news conference urging passage of “Anton’s Law.” (Luke Broadwater, Baltimore Sun video)

The family of Anton Black came to Annapolis on Tuesday to raise concern that legislation bearing the 19-year-old’s name has not received a vote in Maryland’s General Assembly — while another police transparency bill they view as weaker is advancing.

Del. Gabriel Acevero, the Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored “Anton’s Law” — named after the young man who died in police custody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore — called a news conference to say his legislation and other bills demanding greater transparency from police have been shelved in favor of what he considers a half-measure.

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The House of Delegates recently passed legislation sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, the Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, that requires police trial boards to comply with the Open Meetings Act and release audio from their hearings. The bill, which passed by a vote of 117-21, also adopted some measures from “Anton’s Law,” requiring after an in-custody death, law enforcement agencies must provide information about prior sustained complaints against an officer to a complainant.

But Acevero and Black’s family want more information — including the autopsy, body camera footage, investigatory files, and all accusations against an officer — turned over to a complainant after encounters with law enforcement.

“It is not as far as we need to go,” Acevero said of Clippinger’s bill. “We will be unrelenting in our advocacy, and we’re demanding a vote. The family deserves a vote. The community deserves a vote.”

“Anton’s Law” was introduced after Black’s family had to wait more than four months to get basic documents involved in her brother’s case.

The proposed law would mandate Maryland State Police develop a uniform citizen complaint process, and require that those filing complaints receive copies of their investigatory files and copies of all prior complaints filed against the police officer in question.

In Annapolis on Tuesday, LaToya Holley, Black’s sister, urged lawmakers to not let Anton’s Law “fall to the wayside.”

“Please vote yes for ‘Anton’s Law,’ ” she said. “This is going to continue to happen until we do something to change it and we need to change it now.”

Black’s death in September roiled the small town of Greensboro in Caroline County as family, friends and civil rights groups demanded answers for how the young man, chased and arrested by police, died in their custody.

The 19-year-old aspiring model and soon-to-be father died Sept. 15 after a stop by a member of the Greensboro Police Department.

Black’s family pushed for answers about his death for more than four months, but received little to no information. That was until Gov. Larry Hogan told The Baltimore Sun he’d taken a personal interest in the case and was pushing for information on what happened to Black. Shortly thereafter, the state’s medical examiner released to the family an autopsy report that said Black suffered “sudden cardiac death” and that it was likely that his struggle with law enforcement contributed to his death.

The officer involved in Black’s death was placed on administrative leave by the Greensboro police almost four months after the teen’s death, and state public safety officials opened an investigation into how the officer involved was granted police powers when his personnel records supplied to the state did not include his full history, including prior complaints against the officer.

Clippinger said his legislation arises from long discussions including both advocates for police reform and law enforcement.

He said the original intent of the bill was to help reporters and members of the public get into trial board hearings — after some were barred after arriving late.

Clippinger said he amended the bill to include some provisions from “Anton’s Law” so that families in situations like Black’s could get answers after a loved on died in police custody.

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“I don’t question for a moment that Anton's family went through hell and back to find out the information,” Clippinger said. “It should not take the governor of the state of Maryland to find out what happened to their son.”

Law enforcement officials testified against “Anton’s Law” in a Senate committee Tuesday, arguing that unsubstantiated charges against officers should not be released to the public. They also argued that investigative files should not be released until after a probe is completed.

“We’re still citizens of the United States,” testified Mike Young, president of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police Lodge 30. “This bill is trying to make us a second-tier citizen.”

Sen. Jill P. Carter, the Baltimore Democrat who is sponsor of the Senate version of “Anton’s Law,” said law enforcement agencies have pushed back against releasing complaints filed against police — and, she fears, killed all other police transparency legislation other than Clippinger’s.

“Law enforcement agencies must stop putting their own self-interest in privacy and secrecy about the rights of the people they serve,” Carter said. “They are public servants and their actions must be made public particularly when someone dies as a result of their action or inaction. They must be made to operate in good faith when dealing with aggrieved families.”

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