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Family of Maryland teen who died in encounter with police sues in federal court

Brandon Jackson, brother of Anton Black, and Janell Black, Anton's mother, in Greensboro, Md. (Courtland Milloy/The Washington Post)

The family of a young Black man from Maryland’s Eastern Shore who died during an encounter with police filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the officers, the state medical examiner, the three towns where the officers served and the two police chiefs involved in the case.

Anton Black, 19, died two years ago after being wrestled to the ground by three officers and one civilian, all of whom were White. Police body camera footage shows the officers on top of Black, pressing his neck. The incident roiled the small town of Greensboro, Md., which is named in the lawsuit.

Advocates say Black’s death is eerily similar to the killing of George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the country, forcing a reckoning about systemic racism and policing.

One mother’s hope: George Floyd’s death will shine new light on her son’s case

“Anton Black died because police employed excessive force, laying him out prone on his stomach, lying on top of him for approximately six minutes and approximately five minutes after he was handcuffed, and folding his legs towards the sky in a manner that further compromised his ability to breathe,” the lawsuit reads.

An attorney for Greensboro did not immediately return a call for comment.

Black’s family is joined by the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, a grass-roots group that formed after Black died and has fought for transparency and accountability in his death. They are suing for unspecified monetary damages.

“It’s staggering how much was done wrong in this case that was improper, illegal, unethical and in fact disgraceful,” Ken Ravenell, an attorney for Black’s parents and his estate, said at a news conference Thursday. “Today we took a bold step towards justice for Anton Black and against the police officers who took his life and also against those who were complicit in covering up the injustice.”

The state medical examiner ruled Black’s death as accidental, saying that it was “likely that the stress of his struggle” with police contributed to his death, as did bipolar disorder and underlying heart issues. The ruling said “no evidence was found that restraint by law enforcement directly caused or significantly caused or significantly contributed” to Black’s death.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is partnering with Ravenell in the legal challenge, hoping it will lead to systemic reform, said Sonia Kumar, a senior staff attorney with the organization.

“Part of what we are seeking here is change,” Kumar said. “For the court to declare that what happened here was illegal . . . and to prevent it from ever happening again.”

One mother’s hope: George Floyd’s death will shine new light on her son’s case

A young man died after being stopped by police. Four months later, no one knows why.

The death of George Floyd: What video and other records show about his final minutes