Sunday, November 27, 2022

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City of Greensboro settles lawsuit involving former officer later hired by Graham

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The city of Greensboro has settled a lawsuit filed over the death of an unarmed black man that involved an officer later hired by the Graham police department.

Greensboro city officials and the legal team representing the survivors of Marcus Deon Smith, 38, black male, who died in Greensboro police custody in September 2018, recently announced that they had reached a $2.57 million settlement in a federal suit filed in 2019.

Graham’s police department found itself at the center of a controversy last year over its hiring of a former Greensboro police officer, Douglas A. Strader, who had been among eight Greensboro police officers later implicated in Smith’s death.

Strader had been with Greensboro police department for 16 years, eventually rising to the rank of corporal, but was fired in September 2020, based on documents that Greensboro city officials furnished in March 2021 in response to a public records request by The Alamance News. He had been one of eight Greensboro police officers who were on scene during Smith’s arrest in September 2018, the city’s public records show.

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None of the officers involved, including Strader, was found to have acted improperly, disciplined, or removed from their posts.

Activists later claimed Smith had been “killed” by Greensboro police.

Strader was ultimately fired for an unrelated incident, according to documents furnished by the Greensboro police department.

The autopsy, which the city of Greensboro made public under the state’s Public Records Law, revealed Smith had died of “sudden cardiopulmonary arrest due to prone restraint; n-ethylpentalone [bath salts and/or plant fertilizer used to produce a high similar to methamphetamines], cocaine, and alcohol use; and hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease” due to a “history of hypertension, smoking, and alcoholism.”

Strader was one of four Greensboro police officers who are reported to have fired on an occupied vehicle as it was fleeing a crime scene at the intersection of South Elm and East Washington streets in October 2019. He was fired in September 2020 for violating the police department’s nearly 600-page policy governing the use of force, based on a termination letter from then-city manager David Parrish, which the city furnished in response to the newspaper’s public records request.

The Graham police department hired Strader on March 1, 2021 as a Police Officer I, at an annual salary of $43,410.63, based on documents the city provided in response to a public records request from The Alamance News at the time.

Graham police chief Kristy Cole subsequently released a statement, emphasizing that Strader’s hiring “exceeds and complies with all guidelines set forth by the NC Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission,” including successful completion of background checks for all applicants seeking law enforcement certification.

Meanwhile, Greensboro city attorney Chuck Watts announced during a city council meeting on February 1 that the city had settled the lawsuit, which Smith’s estate filed in April 2019.

A settlement order had not been filed in the U.S. District Court for the North Carolina Middle District by press time. Entry of a settlement order and a motion to dismiss the action, “without any findings of wrongdoing or liability,” remain pending in federal district court, according to the attorneys for Smith’s estate.

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