GREENSBORO — The state agency that oversees police certification is investigating the hiring early last year of the Greensboro police officer involved in the September 2018 incident that resulted in the death of 19-year-old Anton Black.
Greensboro Police Officer Thomas Webster IV’s full history, including 29 “use of force” reports from his career as an officer in Dover, Del., was not disclosed to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in the application for Webster’s certification in Maryland, submitted last year by the Greensboro Police Department, agency spokesman Gerard Shields said Monday, Feb. 11.
Only Webster’s 2015 acquittal on assault charges, stemming from a 2013 incident in which a dash camera recorded Webster kicking an unarmed black man in the jaw while trying to arrest him in Dover, was included in the Maryland certification application, Shields said.
The additional “use of force” reports came to the agency’s attention through news reporting, Shields said.
The Police Training and Standards Commission could be asked to consider decertifying Webster at its next meeting April 10, Shields said, though it will not take any action until the Maryland State Police are done investigating.
Shields said even if the commission were to decertify Webster, the agency would not have the authority to take disciplinary action against anyone who may have failed to disclose information on the application.
Shields said “use of force” reports would typically be something included on such an application.
“(The agency) would like to know that,” Shields said.
At the town’s regular monthly meeting Thursday, Feb. 7, resident Christina Robinson, also a founding member of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, formed after his death, asked the mayor and council if they were aware of the additional “use of force” reports in Webster’s Delaware personnel file, or of notes from performance evaluations referring to poor decision-making and a lack of consideration of consequences.
Mayor Joe Noon said he could not speak for everyone on the council, but he was not aware.
Town Manager Jeannette DeLude said Webster’s background check was completed by then-Police Chief Michael Petyo, who resigned from the town department as of Jan. 31 to serve as deputy chief in Camden, Del.
Noon said he and the council voted on Webster’s hiring based solely on Petyo’s recommendation.
Robinson said she was among the citizens who came to the town’s meeting in March 2018 to raise concerns about Webster’s hiring, six months before Black died.
Though Webster was acquitted of the assault charges from the 2013 incident, the City of Dover paid him $230,000 over six years after his release from the police department on the condition he never again would seek employment there and paid the injured man, Lateef Dickerson, $300,000 to drop a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.
“With all that has happened, do you feel like citizens were warranted in their fears that the hiring of Webster might open up the community to unnecessary liabilities?” Robinson asked.
Noon said he could not answer that question.
“With all the information I just shared, would you still say that Webster was the best qualified officer for the position, out of 15 candidates?” Robinson asked.
Noon said he could not answer that question either.
Webster was placed on paid administrative leave by the town in January, four months after Black’s death, only after repeated requests from the community to do so.
Robinson asked if Webster is still on probationary employment with the town’s police force.
DeLude said Webster’s mandatory one-year probation ended in late January. Noon said there has been no discussion of returning Webster to patrol duty.
Richard Potter, co-founder of the Coalition for Justice for Anton Black, said Feb. 11 the organization had planned to contact the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services about Webster’s service history in Delaware, but it had not yet done so before the agency opened its investigation.
“(Webster) should’ve never been hired,” Potter said. “He’s a risk. The way the town handled the situation, they’re liable for all of this at this point.”
Potter said the town’s response to Black’s death shows a clear laissez faire approach.
“I think things will come to light,” Potter said. “We will continue to seek justice. We’re not going away.”
Webster responded to a call Sept. 15, 2018, of a young boy possibly being abducted by an older teen, Black, in Greensboro.
After a brief foot pursuit that ended in front of Black’s family’s home on Greensboro Road, Webster used his baton to break the window of a car parked outside the home, which Black had jumped into. Webster then tried to use his Taser on Black, still in the car. Black left the car, and Webster, along with two off-duty officers from Ridgely and Centreville and a passing civilian, restrained Black on a handicap ramp leading into the home.
Black became unresponsive after the struggle to restrain him. Officers and, later, emergency medical services personnel administered life-saving services, but he was later pronounced dead at the Memorial Hospital at Easton.
In January, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Black’s autopsy revealed his death was accidental, a sudden cardiac arrest caused by a congenital heart defect. The autopsy noted the stress of the struggle with police likely contributed.
Caroline County State’s Attorney Joseph Riley said based on that evidence, he would not seek an indictment against any of the involved officers.
Attorneys representing Black’s family then announced they would ask the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct its own investigation. The American Civil Liberties Union also said it will call for an independent investigation by the Maryland State Prosecutor or the U.S. Department of Justice.