Shortly after Del. Gabriel Acevero heard about the death of 19-year-old Anton Black in police custody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the lawmaker called Black’s older sister with a request.
Acevero, a Montgomery County Democrat, asked LaToya Holley for permission to draft legislation called “Anton’s Law,” aimed at requiring greater transparency from law enforcement agencies after Black’s family had to wait more than four months to get basic documents involved in her brother’s case.
Holley’s reaction was tears.
“I believe I cried,” she told reporters Tuesday. “It was very unexpected and very humbling.”
Holley and fellow members of Anton Black’s family came to the State House in Annapolis on Tuesday to press for passage of the proposed law, which would require Maryland State Police to 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.
“Government cannot be accountable if it is not transparent,” Acevero said at a news conference flanked by Black’s family and supporters. “Anton Black’s life mattered. The family and community that raised this young man deserved answers and they didn't get it for months. … This bill will address just that.”
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.
According to body-camera footage released by the Greensboro police, the officer, Thomas Webster IV, 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.
Jennell Black, Anton’s mom, cried when speaking to reporters Tuesday. She said the legislation to improve transparency shows her son’s death was not in vain.
“Anton would be very, very happy,” she said. “I don’t want to see this happen to any other children. I don’t want any other family to go through this ever.”
Antone Black, Anton’s father, said he still hears his son’s voice at night when he tries to sleep.
“I still got a lot of questions about what happened to my son,” Antone Black said. “I can’t sleep. I still hear him saying, ‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.’ ”
The House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee heard testimony from the family Tuesday. More than 30 delegates have signed on as co-sponsors, and no one testified against the legislation.
The fiscal impact of the bill for most municipalities is expected to be minimal, but Montgomery County said it could face a “potentially significant increase in county expenditures” as county lawyers process requests for officers’ files.
Del. Robin Grammer, a Baltimore County Republican, said he was concerned that the bill’s provisions mandating the release of disciplinary files would discourage whistle-blowers from coming forward.
“You’re going to see less people who are willing to testify if [the] administrative file is released,” Grammer said.
Acevero said he was open to amendments to make sure that whistle-blower’s names are redacted when the files are released.
Holley said she’s grateful for lawmakers’ and Hogan’s interest into the case. Without their involvement, she doesn’t think she would have received any answers.
Holley said her brother’s death has been “completely devastating to the entire family.”
But, she said, Anton would be “ecstatic” to know his memory could do some good.
“I can see his beautiful smile right now,” Holley said. “He would be jumping for joy right now if he knew people thought this much of him to name a bill after him.”