*Editor’s note: At 2:45 p.m. on April 10, this article was updated with new information. 

Attorneys include negotiator of landmark police torture reparations

On April 10 at Bethel AME Church in Greensboro, lawyers for the family of the late Marcus Deon Smith announced a civil suit over Smith’s Sept. 8, 2018 death after being hogtied by Greensboro police officers during the North Carolina Folk Festival.

The plaintiffs’ legal team includes a prominent civil rights attorney who helped negotiate Chicago’s landmark 2015 decision to award reparations to survivors of police torture.

Along with the Greensboro-based law office of Graham Holt, representing the Smith family since last October, the Complaint is submitted by three attorneys from the People’s Law Office in Chicago: G. Flint Taylor, Ben H. Elson, and Christian E. Snow.

Taylor, who made the announcement at Bethel AME with Holt, was on the 2011 legal team that obtained the first judicial decision naming former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley as a defendant in a civil police torture case. He took part in the decades-long campaign to bring criminal charges against Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, convicted in 2010 for lying about torturing suspects. In 2015, this led to a historic $5.5 million-reparations package to those tortured while in police custody during Burge’s command.

In 1982, Taylor and the People’s Law Office, which he co-founded, attained an historic $1.85 million civil rights settlement against the Chicago Police Department for the death of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, killed during a 1969 police raid while he lay sleeping under the influence of a drugged drink given him by an FBI informant.

In 1985, Taylor was co-lead trial counsel in a Winston-Salem federal district court case that found two Klansmen, three Nazis, two Greensboro police officers, and a police informant liable for the wrongful death of one person and the injuring of two others during the 1979 Greensboro Massacre. This was the first time in U.S. legal history that anyone was found liable for wrongful death in the Greensboro Massacre.

The Complaint announced today by Taylor, Holt and the Smith family lists Mary Smith and George Smith, parents of Marcus Smith, as individual plaintiffs, and Mary Smith as administrator of her late son’s estate.

The City of Greensboro and Guilford County are named as defendants, along with Greensboro police officers Justin Payne, Robert Duncan, Michael Montalvo, Alfred Lewis, Christopher Bradshaw, Lee Andrews, Douglas Strader, and Jordan Bailey, and Guilford EMS paramedic Ashley Abbott and Dylan Alling in the Complaint acquired by YES! Weekly.

The Complaint’s Preliminary Statement includes allegations that “Greensboro Police Officers caused Marcus’s death by brutally restraining him prone on the ground and hogtying him like an animal until he stopped breathing” and that Guilford County EMS “failed to intervene to protect Marcus from the use of unreasonable force and failed to promptly attend to his serious medical needs.” It also states that Marcus Smith was not engaged in any criminal conduct, was unarmed, made no threats to the police or others, presented no immediate danger to the officers, himself or others, and was not actively resisting arrest.

It alleges that “written and de facto policies, practices and customs of Defendant City of Greensboro and its Police Department contributed to and were a moving force behind Marcus’s death, as the Defendant officers were acting pursuant to these policies, practices and customs, that included the use of restraint devices to hogtie people who are in a prone position, and the treatment of people who experience mental health crises.”

The Complaint describes officer Duncan as handcuffing Smith’s hands behind his back while other officers held him down. “Defendants then hogtied Marcus while he was prone on the ground. Defendant Payne grabbed Marcus’s ankles and pushed Marcus’s feet toward his hands with extreme and unnecessary force, bending Marcus’s knees well beyond a 90-degree angle. Defendant Payne pushed Marcus’s feet all the way to the point that they were touching his handcuffed hands at the small of his back”

The Complaint states that Duncan, Andrews and Montalvo “used the RIPP Hobble device to bind Marcus’s hands to his feet behind his back while Defendant Payne continued to violently push Marcus’s feet toward his back, causing Marcus’s knees to continue to be bent well beyond a 90-degree angle.”

According to the Complaint, in a description that matches this writer’s own multiple viewings of police body cam videos, “Andrews and Montalvo then tightened the strap on the RIPP Hobble device so tight that Marcus’s shoulders and his knees were suspended above the ground.”

The subsequent description also matches this writer’s multiple viewing of the videos, in which Marcus Smith can be seen “wheezing, moaning, groaning, gasping for air, and in obvious respiratory and physical distress.” Less than half a minute later, he became unresponsive.

The Complaint then describes how, while and after restraining Smith, the officers and paramedics allowed him “to remain prone on his stomach, with his knees bent well beyond 90 degrees.” It alleges “they failed to continuously monitor” his condition and that the paramedics were aware that he was “unconscious, unresponsive and not breathing, yet waited longer than two minutes to begin any resuscitative efforts.”

The Complaint’s “Policy and Practice Allegations” describe “a concerted effort to cover up” Smith’s death, beginning with statement issued by the Greensboro Police Department that claimed he “had collapsed while he was in police custody (he did not), that he was combative (he was not), that officers rendered aid (they did not), that he died at the hospital (he died face down on the street), and blatantly omitting that Marcus was taken to the ground by the police and forcibly restrained and hogtied.”

The Complaint challenges statements made by Chief Wayne Scott that his department had no directives regarding the use of the RIPP Hobble. After Smith’s death, Chief Scott “stated that the GPD Directive only applied to the transport of persons in custody, and since Marcus was dead before they got to the point of transporting him, the Directive did not apply,” and that “the department did not have a specific directive on applying the RIPP Hobble, or hogtying, restraint prior to transporting detainees.”

The Complaint states, as previously reported and verified by YES! Weekly, that the “manufacturer of the RIPP Hobble provides a bold-faced warning with the product that reads: ‘NEVER Hog-Tie a Prisoner.’”

The Complaint concludes with “Plaintiffs hereby demand a trial by jury pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 38(b) on all issues so triable.”

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