Anger at city council over death of man ‘hogtied’ by GPD
*Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, the author called Chief Wayne Scott (upon the second reference) as Chief Glen. The mix-up has been corrected.
Tempers flared at the meeting of the Greensboro City Council on Dec. 4.
It was the first one at which the entire council (absent mayor pro tem Yvonne Johnson) addressed the Sept. 8 death of Marcus Deon Smith, which occurred downtown during the North Carolina Folk Festival, when the highly agitated Smith was “hogtied” by the four Greensboro police officers he’d asked to take him to the hospital. After weeks of not publicly responding to statements from Smith’s family and their lawyer, the city released the officer body cam videos of the incident on Friday night, hours after the state office of the chief medical examiner ruled Smith’s death a homicide.
Many of the attending public loudly booed (and several yelled “stooge!” and “police spy!”) after at-large representative Marikay Abuzuaiter claimed the restraint was necessary because “Molly” [the “designer drug” N-Ethylpentylone] may have given him “superhuman strength.” The crowd was also unreceptive to Abuzuaiter defending her position by saying that “90 percent” of comments on local T.V. station web pages supported the actions of the officers.
There were also tense exchanges between council members. Mayor Nancy Vaughan introduced the public comments on Smith’s death with a statement of condolences to his family and an apology for not responding to letters from their attorney Graham Holt. She then said, “the city is going to embed mental health workers in our police department.”
At the end of the public comments, District 3 representative Justin Outling expressed reservations about how the city would pay for this proposal, as well as concern that he had not been included in discussions of it. “The first I heard [that] we would be doing something in terms of engaging social workers was yesterday after a council member said it at a public meeting,” Outling declared, adding “I wasn’t even consulted.”
At-large representative Michelle Kennedy took exception to Outling’s claim. “I’m not sure how you only found about this yesterday,” she said when it was her turn to speak, “because I sent a link with all of this and some best practices from around the country to you on Saturday and I never heard back.” A brief but heated exchange followed, with Outling attempting to speak over Kennedy. She responded with “Let me finish, let me finish!” and “I can keep talking, too; this is my turn to talk” until the mayor cut both off with “I think the audience [which she had earlier admonished for booing Abuzuaiter] is acting better than we are, so let’s stop.”
The council’s response to the passionate public comments ended with an apology from Kennedy, who had known Smith through her work with the IRC. “I failed to respond when people reached out for answers,” Kennedy said. “The particular situation was one that was very close to me, in a community that I live and work alongside every day. There hasn’t been a day since my phone rang on the night that Marcus died that I haven’t been enmeshed in this, but I absolutely failed in communicating that fact to the people I’m responsible to.”
Her closing apology was better received by the attending public than Vaughan’s opening one had been. In between the two, dozens of pastors, homeless advocates, A&T students, and miscellaneous concerned citizens called for the firing and prosecution of the four GPD officers, who put Smith in a RIPP Hobble restraint to “secure” him. As well as for the paramedics, whom several felt had failed to respond properly or in time, and Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott, whose office had issued a press release the day of Smith’s death that many called a “lie.”
That word was used to describe the police statement by both mayor Vaughan and District 1’s Sharon Hightower when they addressed a packed gathering in support of Smith’s family at Shiloh Baptist Church on Monday, where Vaughan told the crowd, “I have concerns about that first press release that was put out. I want answers on why it was said that he was suicidal and dropped to the ground. That obviously was a lie.”
As can be determined by the viewing the police videos, several claims made in that original police press release appear untrue, particularly the claims that Smith was “combative” and “collapsed.” It also contained no mention of him being hogtied or otherwise forcibly restrained.
Several in attendance at the church gathering on Monday and at Tuesday night’s council meeting asked what would be the consequences for that misinformation, suggesting that Chief Scott had engaged in a cover-up. This was not addressed by any of the council members on Tuesday.
Space precludes all but a few quotes from the public comments made to the Greensboro City Council. Hester Petty, who identified herself as belonging to Democracy Greensboro as well as the “Justice for Marcus Smith” and “Justice for Zared Jones” coalitions, and urged the public to view all the police videos, not just the compilation assembled and “explained” by the police chief. She disputed the chief’s statement that Smith died in the hospital. “Marcus died, face down, in the middle of Church Street while four officers held him down and hogtied him.” Retired civil rights attorney Lewis Pitts called for the entire city council to resign, saying that if they didn’t, “we the people are going to send you to the same place we sent BJ Barnes and Trudy Wade.” NC A&T student body president Delaney Vandergrift said that the city council’s response to “a video of a man brutalized and murdered and gasping for air . . . has been slow and careless and it’s troubling.”
There were repeated demands for the firing and prosecution of the officers who hogtied Smith, with many decrying their being returned to duty before the chief medical examiner delivered his report. Several pointed out that placing Smith in the RIPP Hobble and keeping him on his stomach went against sec. 11-1, p. 255, of the directives of the Greensboro Police Department, stating that the police had violated their own rules.
The video of the entire three-hour and 48-minute meeting can be viewed on the Greensboro City Council webpage, with a section devoted to Marcus Deon Smith beginning around 1:22:00. Public comments begin at 1:25:07 and city council responses (which include Abuzuaiter’s exchange with the attending public and the exchange between Outling and Kennedy) with Sharon Hightower’s at 3:15:09. Hightower was the council member most critical of the police treatment of Smith (which she compared to lynching) and one most in agreement with the public comments that his death was an example of systemic racism.
The following is the full statement from the mayor at last night’s meeting that she shared with the author today.
“Last night at a meeting at the Shiloh Baptist Church I had the opportunity to speak with the Marcus Smith family. I expressed to them our condolence on the loss of their loved one and agreed to look into the initial press release. I believe releasing the body-worn camera videos was the right thing to do. The Chief of Police petitioned the court to release the videos so anyone can view them. It should be noted that the officers involved did not object to the release of the videos and that all 17 officers anywhere in the vicinity that night agreed to the release. All unedited videos are on the city’s website. On Friday, the Chief of Police issued a Special Order that the maximum restraint method called Ripp Hobble, being commonly referred to as “hog tying”, is no longer being used to bring the feet and hands together. This method had been in place for the past 15 years. The device will only be used to bind feet. Greensboro Police Department will be exploring new methods of maximum restraint. At the suggestion of Michelle Kennedy, based on her experience at the IRC and working with people experiencing mental and addiction crises, the City is going to embed mental health workers in our police department. These professionals will be new hires who are specially trained to assist police with their encounters with people suffering from mental health or drug addiction issues and help defuse and de-escalate negative interactions. They can also provide follow-up treatment options. The Guilford County Emergency Services Director has seen the body-worn camera video. Questions concerning the level of service displayed by the emergency service providers should be directed to the County. We have been informed by the SBI that their report will be finalized by the end of this week.”