Sunday, April 11, 2021

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Death of Marcus Smith in Greensboro police custody tragic, but officers not implicated

In the first incident, which activists describe as eerily similar to the death of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis, Strader was one of eight Greensboro officers involved in the arrest of Marcus Deon Smith, black, male, age 38, who died in police custody on September 8, 2018.

According to the coroner’s summary, officers were patrolling a folk festival in the early morning hours of September 8, 2018 when they found Smith “running in and out of traffic, stating he wanted to kill himself, and apparently very agitated.”

On video on a body camera worn by one of the officers, the officer’s reaction that he was “high on something” can be heard as Smith’s erratic pacing and walking toward and away from the officers who repeatedly ask him to have a seat out of the roadway. Cars often slowed and officers ask them to go slow to avoid hitting the man who keeps darting back and forth across the street.

Smith told officers he wanted to go to the hospital, according to the summary, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was summoned.

However, when Smith was put in the EMS vehicle, he started “screaming and hitting the windows of the vehicle.”

According to a subsequent description from Greensboro police chief Wayne Scott, EMS personnel asked that Smith be restrained.

Police removed him from the EMS vehicle, put him on the ground, handcuffed his hands behind his back and a strap (referred to as a “RIPP Hobble device) was placed on his ankles, tied to the handcuffs, a procedure sometimes referred to as being hogtied.

That is the phrase most often used by his supporters, who contend he was “killed” by police.

This weekend, a group of activists who describe themselves as “a coalition of Alamance County and Graham, NC, anti-racist organizations” will hold a Saturday morning demonstration at Sesquicentennial Park “to express our deep concern about the hiring of Douglas Strader by the Graham Police Department and to show support for the family of Marcus Smith.”

They describe Smith’s 2018 death as, “Marcus Smith was killed by Greensboro police using a now-banned hogtie hold. Strader was a participant in that killing.”

In fact, none of the officers involved in the incident was determined to have acted improperly, disciplined, or removed from their posts, including Strader; he was dismissed for another, unrelated incident, but racial justice activists have zeroed in on the Smith case, since Strader was one of the eight officers involved the night of Smith’s death.

Also, in some degree of parallel to the death of George Floyd, for which Minneapolis police officer Derek Chavin is now on trial, Smith also had drugs in his system.

According to the autopsy, a record which Greensboro has made public under North Carolina’s Public Records Law, found that he had died of “sudden cardiopulmonary arrest due to prone restraint; n-ethylpentalone, cocaine, and alcohol use; and hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”

To put it more layman’s terms, as in another part of the autopsy, Smith “had a history of hypertension, smoking, and alcoholism.” The coroner also determined that Smith was “known to use cocaine and ‘molly,’ a term that typically refers to MDMA, or ‘ecstasy.’”

The coroner also determined that Smith had previously been “hospitalized for combativeness or substance-induced delirium following drug use including methamphetamine, cocaine, and ‘molly.’”

 

Federal lawsuit
A federal lawsuit, seeking monetary damages from the city of Greensboro, is still pending, with varying assessments among city councilmen there of its likelihood of success.

The lawsuit has been mentioned during open session at several Greensboro city council meetings this year.

According to the Rhino Times, a weekly newspaper in Greensboro, city council members there appear to differ on how much urgency there is to settle, or whether the city should let the lawsuit proceed since some do not think it has much likelihood of success.

The lawsuit by Smith’s parents, Mary and George Smith, is also complicated by the fact that Smith has three children by three different women and there is some disagreement about who should receive any potential settlement and how it should be shared, if at all, with the children.

Meanwhile, Greensboro’s city attorney has been fairly open about his assessment of the case. In an email written in December to two of the activists who have been lobbying the city council to settle with the family, city attorney Chuck Watts, wrote “Lawsuits are not guarantees of victory. In the context of this litigation, there is a likelihood that this case will get dismissed on summary judgment. The judge signaled as much when she dismissed most of the case on our motion to dismiss. If this case goes to trial, given the video evidence of the incident and the officers’ defenses under the law, it is my view that there will be a verdict for the Defendant, thus giving the Plaintiffs nothing.”

Watts, however, is not actually handling any of the discussion or negotiations on the lawsuit. An outside law firm has been hired.

But one member of the city council, Justin Outling, a black attorney who works with the law firm Brooks Pierce, had a similar assessment at a recent city council meeting.

In a report from the Rhino Times, “Outling noted that all the police body worn camera videos from that night are available to the public and he said people can watch them and form their own opinions. [Editor’s Note: see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P55gefPZDVM.]

“He said, ‘When I look at the video, I don’t see the police as having engaged in misconduct.

“Outling was asked why there had not been a settlement and he said, ‘There is just not an agreement that has been reached as to the terms to which all sides can agree.’

“He added that when the majority of the City Council and the Smith family reach terms to which they can all agree, there will be a settlement.

“Outling also said, ‘It could be dismissed at summary judgment. Quite frankly, there is a strong legal case on behalf of the city.’

“He added, ‘In terms of an actual legal case, it is something that really could be dismissed.’”


Other aspects of this week’s coverage of officer Douglas Strader’s hiring and two controversies he was involved in while serving in Greensboro Police Department:

Graham police chief defends decision to hire officer fired by Greensboro Police Department: https://alamancenews.com/graham-chief-defends-hiring-policeman-fired-by-greensboro/

Graham police chief says she will assess officer by his performance, not criticism or protests: https://alamancenews.com/police-chief-says-keeping-strader-will-be-based-on-his-performance/

Statement from the Graham Police Department on hiring Douglas Strader: https://alamancenews.com/statement-from-graham-police-dept-on-hiring-of-douglas-a-strader-formerly-with-greensboro-police-dept/

Strader fired one year about shooting at fleeing vehicle; city manager denies his appeal of the firing: https://alamancenews.com/straders-decision-to-shoot-at-fleeing-vehicle-gets-him-fired/

See Greensboro Police Department body-cam video from the tragic encounter with Marcus Smith: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P55gefPZDVM

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