Greensboro citizens fact-check GPD narrative of Marcus Smith death
“The compilation video on the city’s website does not accurately represent the circumstances surrounding the homicide of Marcus Deon Smith by Greensboro police officers last Sept. 8, and it should be removed immediately.”
So declared Hester Petty of Democracy Greensboro during the public comments section of the May 7 Greensboro City Council Meeting. She then made the following request of the man she accused of lying.
“I want Chief Scott to retract his false statements in as public a manner as he originally published them.”
Scott, who entered the room and then exited during Petty’s speech, was not there to respond to her allegation, but he was present for the earlier ceremonial and/or presentation items on the agenda.
These items included a resolution honoring Officer Jared Franks, who died last November when his vehicle was struck by another patrol car while responding to a reported burglary, and one recognizing May 12 – 18 as National Law Enforcement Week. Accepting that resolution, Scott thanked the city council for their support and asked the 100+ members of his department present to give them a round of applause.
Despite the heavy GPD presence, Petty was not the only one to criticize their chief. Five other speakers demanded that Scott be fired or resign over what they called “a cover-up” in the case of Marcus Deon Smith, who died last September after being hogtied by the officers he’d asked to take him to the hospital.
At the previous town hall meeting on April 1, 20 speakers called for Scott’s removal or resignation, six making this demand appearing before council for the first time. On May 7, those denouncing Scott had all done so before. But Petty’s request to remove the edited compilation video was new.
In her speech, Petty accused Chief Scott of making “three false statements” in his recorded introduction to the edited compilation video the city released (along with the 20 unedited body cam ones) released Nov. 30, after the state medical officer declared Smith’s death a homicide.
Petty said Scott’s “first false statement” was when, in his introduction to the compilation, Scott described Marcus Smith as “turning on his back and kicking the window” of the patrol car the police asked him to enter while waiting for EMS to arrive. She acknowledged that his feet were pressed briefly against the glass and that “he might have kicked the window if the car door had not been opened, but that would be speculation, not truth.”
Scott’s “second false statement,” she said, was the following:
“We made the decision very quickly,” says Scott in the video’s introduction, “that we had to transport him [Smith] for further medical examination, and connecting with EMS personnel, the decision was made at their request that he had to be restrained.”
But, Petty said, “EMS had not yet arrived on the scene when Officer [Robert] Duncan told the dispatcher that he would take Marcus to the hospital. Officer Duncan then told the officers standing near him ‘probably ought to RIP Hobble him.’ It is absolutely clear, watching the unedited body cam videos, that the decision to restrain Marcus was made by Officer Duncan before the EMTs walked up to the patrol car and it was not made at the request of EMS.”
As reported previously in YES! Weekly, although the RIPP Hobble is a device meant to restrain the legs and feet of a person in custody, it comes with explicit instructions to “never hogtie a prisoner” by attaching it the restrained person’s handcuffed wrists behind their back, as Scott’s officers did to Smith.
Petty said that “Chief Scott’s third false statement” was this:
“The application of the RIPP Hobble takes a little less than a minute. You’ll see the officers following our procedures, immediately rolling him on his side where they could adjust the RIPP Hobble and check his condition.”
Petty adamantly disputed Scott’s description. “In fact, once the RIPP Hobble was fastened, the officers did not immediately roll Marcus over on his side. Instead, they stood up and looked down at him as he lay lifeless face-down on the pavement. Only then did they roll him over, and that was to take the RIPP Hobble off so EMS could do something, which of course they could not because he was dead.”
In the past, Petty has supported Mayor Vaughan’s calls for “civility,” expressing dismay when others seeking justice for Marcus Smith shouted at the council from the audience. But at this meeting, it was the mayor and other council members she condemned. “Apparently, you all share Chief Scott’s lack of concern about falsehoods on the city’s website. Inaccuracies like this posted publicly on the city’s website and kept in place even after falsehood are brought to your attention, convinced me that there a cover-up in progress about the homicide of Marcus Deon Smith.”
Although depicting events that occurred in less than an hour, the 20 unedited body cam videos of the GPD’s fatal encounter with Marcus Smith total three hours and 52 minutes of footage, the videos range from under three minutes to over 20 in length. They all have a synchronized time stamp in the upper right of the frame, allowing the viewer to determine exactly when what they depict happened.
What occurred between the time that Marcus Smith first entered the back seat of Officer Robert Duncan’s police car and Officer Ronald Lewis opened the door to let him out can be most clearly seen and heard on videos # 1, 12, and 17.
With no official transcriptions of the video available from the city’s website, I emailed Petty and asked for her own transcriptions of the unedited video, which she promptly sent. After spending much of May 8 comparing the videos to Petty’s transcriptions, I called Mayor Vaughan in the late afternoon and asked her about Petty’s claim of three falsehoods in Chief Scott’s introduction.
I told the mayor that Smith could be seen and heard slapping the car window with his open hand at several points between 04:51:00 and 04:51:20 of videos 1, 12 and 17. I also said that he could be seen putting his feet on the window at 04:51:38, but at no point on any video did I see him actually kick it.
I then said that, once Smith was out of the car, restrained, and unresponsive, the officers did not appear to “immediately” roll him over on his side as Scott claimed. This can be seen on videos 1, 8, 10, 15, 16, 17, and 20. After Smith’s breath becomes inaudible (04:54:04), he stops moving, and his body goes limp (4:54:11), Officer Andrews finishes applying the RIPP Hobble (04:54:29). Officers Andrews and Duncan stand up (04:54:30) and notice he’s unresponsive (04:54:32-36). Andrews grabs Smith’s left arm with both hands and pulls him onto his side (04:54:42). And, I told her, the videos appeared to support Petty’s claim that the decision to restrain Smith was not due to the request by EMS.
The mayor replied, “the woman from EMS does walk up and say that he will need to be restrained.”
I pointed out that EMT Ashley Abbott made this statement after Officer Ronald Duncan decided to use the RIPP Hobble, as can be seen in video 12, in which Duncan says “Probably ought to RIPP Hobble him” (04:51:24) and “we definitely need to RIPP Hobble him, so he doesn’t bust my window out and fly out on the way to the hospital” (04:51:33) before Abbott says “If he’s going with us, he’ll need to be restrained” (04:51:43).
“I’m aware of the timeline,” said the mayor. “What was important to me is that they both came to the same resolution independently.”
I asked the mayor about another apparent inaccuracy not described by Petty: Scott’s claim that Smith “collapsed into the arms of police,” instead of being taken down by two officers (04:51:57 of video 1).
The mayor responded with the following statement:
“The one thing I would say about the city releasing all of these videos is that it gives everybody the opportunity to watch every video and the compilation video and to make their own determination. And I think that’s very important that the city was transparent in releasing everything that we have available, unlike other cities that we’ve seen. I think that by releasing all of the videos at the scene by every officer that was there was extremely transparent and let people draw their own conclusions.”
There’s no doubt what conclusion Mary Smith has drawn. She and husband George are suing the City of Greensboro, Guilford County, eight Greensboro police officers (including all the ones named above), and two Guilford EMS paramedics for their son’s death.
A week after Chief Wayne Scott thanked the Greensboro City Council for supporting his department and instructed his officers to give them a round of applause, Mary Smith called me to say she’d watched the streaming video of him doing that from her home in Laurens, South Carolina. “It was a slap in the face, seeing the man whose lies we had to bury with Marcus thank the people covering up what his officers did.”
I reached out to Chief Scott and asked for comment but received this email from the Greensboro Police Department’s Public Information Officer Ronald Glenn:
“Because of pending litigation we will not be make any statements at this time.”