Marcus Smith legal team alleges a history of GPD misconduct
*UPDATE: Since this article was first published, plans have been finalized and approved for the public vigil honoring the life of Marcus Deon Smith and mourning the anniversary of his death. It will be held 6:30-7 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 8, at 100 N. Church St. (the intersection of Church and Market) in downtown Greensboro. This is the place and date on which he died one year ago after being hogtied by Greensboro police officers during last year’s folk festival. Members of the Smith family and the clergy will be speaking, and all are invited to attend.
*Cover photo is of George and Mary Smith, parents of Marcus Deon Smith
*Editor’s note: There was a typo and a date that was incorrect. These changes have been made online.
Chief Wayne Scott announces retirement, says no connection
Speaking to supporters at Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro last night, the mother of the late Marcus Deon Smith said she’s been unable to make herself visit her son’s grave.
Mary Smith said she wants to tell her dead son that the eight Greensboro Police Department officers who hogtied him until he stopped breathing have been punished and that the City of Greensboro has apologized for his death at last year’s Folk Festival.
“When I go to his grave again, I want to be able to tell him the truth about what happened,” she told the group of about 30 supporters, two ministers, and six reporters.
She said that she and her husband George only found out how Marcus really died on Oct. 8, a month after his death, when attorney Graham Holt viewed the bodycam videos of the hogtying, a restraint procedure the GPD had not mentioned in either their visit to the family or the initial press release.
Before that, she and her family had believed the claims, she said, which were repeated by Chief Wayne Scott in his introduction to the compilation video released by the city, that Marcus had been “combative” and had “collapsed.”
“We had to tell the whole community Wayne Scott’s lies, we had to tell our church Wayne Scott’s lies, we had to tell our jobs Wayne Scott’s lies, we had to tell the whole family Wayne Scott’s lies,” Mary said. “We want the truth, and we want closure.”
In April 2019, Holt, along with attorneys Flint Taylor, Ben Elson and Christian Snow of the People’s Law Office of Chicago, filed a federal civil right suit against eight GPD officers, the City of Greensboro, two EMTs and Guilford County. Speaking at last night’s meeting, Holt said that the lawsuit would address “the policy and practice of the City of Greensboro as a governmental entity,” including, “what they have done in the past about police abuse.”
Holt also read a text from attorney Flint Taylor stating that team is “committed to holding accountable all those responsible for the brutal and completely unacceptable hogtying death of Marcus Smith, particularly the City of Greensboro and the GPD, whose policies and lack of training was a fundamental reason for Marcus’s homicide.”
Rev. Nelson Johnson, who conducted the meeting, also referenced this allegation. “We know that what happened to Marcus is part of a larger pattern and practice of police abuse of power, so we’re here to curb that tendency.”
Those attending the meeting were given a handout prepared by the Homeless Union of Greensboro, titled “Pattern & Practice of Police Abuse, Misconduct & Cover-Ups in Greensboro.”
It cited 16 instances of this alleged pattern, going back to the 1969 GPD and National Guard siege of A&T and the shooting of Willie Grimes. These included the 1979 Greensboro Massacre; the 1995 wrongful conviction of LaMonte Armstrong; the 2009 settlement in the lawsuit brought by then 85-year-old Eva Foster after she was injured in a police raid but not charged with any crime; and a 2015 front-page article in the New York Times about, “the disproportionate risks of driving while black” in Greensboro.
The handout also cited the city’s $95,000 settlement in the case of Dejuan Yourse after the release of bodycam footage of his arrest showed him being assaulted by officers Travis Cole and Charlotte Jackson; a 2013 YES! Weekly article reporting that city council member Marikay Abuzuaiter once served as a GPD confidential informant; and journalist Nate Thayer’s 2018 report that GPD officers Steven Kory Flowers and Robert Finch served as “control agents” for KKK imperial wizard Chris Barker, shielding Barker from felony prosecution.
Present at the meeting (and mentioned in the handout) was Zared Jones, who was tased and arrested by GPD officers Samuel Alvarez and Jose Chavez in September of 2016. This week, North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Chris Dillon upheld a gag order preventing the Greensboro City Council from discussing GPD bodycam footage of the incident, which council members have been allowed to view but which has not been released. Called to the podium by Rev. Johnson, Jones stated his support for the Smith family and announced his intention of filing a lawsuit in his own case.
The meeting concluded with plans hold a candlelight vigil during next month’s N.C. Folk Festival on Sept. 8, the last day of which will be the anniversary of Marcus Smith’s death at last year’s festival.
At 10 a.m. this morning, Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott held a press conference announcing his retirement on Jan. 31, 2020. He gave the following reason:
“I’ve been eligible for retirement since about the end of January. Law enforcement’s retirement system is fairly complicated; it can actually be counterproductive to stay past your date for financial reasons.” He also said, “quite honestly, it’s time; I want to go spend some time with my family.”
When a reporter asked if the Smith case was a factor in his decision, Scott said, “Absolutely not. As I’ve said, I’ve been eligible for retirement for some time. We have concerns, I’ve expressed concerns, related to that particular incident. But the truth be known, incidents occur every day across this country, and police departments are called into question. I think we have answered the questions have been out there. Some of that’s in litigation, so we can only go so far. But quite frankly, we have a tremendous amount of support in this city. I couldn’t be more happy with the way we’ve answered not only that that question but others that have happened during our history. No one factor drove this. It’s a matter of timing. When I leave the city, Lord willing, on Jan. 31, I’ll have the combined time of 31 years of service. It’s time for me to move on.”
When asked if he had any message for the Smith family and supporters, he gave the following statement:
“Again, I can’t go too much into details, that’s a matter of litigation for us. I can say this, and I have said this repeatedly, I can say with confidence that the public safety folks related to that incident aced with professionalism. They do, as they do daily, which [is] trying to help a citizen. The results were terrible. Someone lost their life. As family members, I understand that. They have my sympathy for grieving. But at the end of the day, public safety is about doing what’s best for each individual in our community, and we will continue to do that.”