A little after midnight, on September 8, 2018, Greensboro police responded to a man who was running in the streets of downtown Greensboro and who was high on drugs. His name was Marcus Dion Smith. He died after being hogtied by police.
The State Medical Examiner ruled the manner of death was homicide caused by sudden cardiopulmonary arrest due to the restraint, drugs, alcohol and cardiovascular disease. [For background, the most accurate and thorough reporting has come from Dick Barron of the News & Record. Update: A reader rightly notes that Jordan Green at Triad City Beat has done an excellent job of covering the story.]
There has been intense public interest in this tragic event, including at the last City Council meeting. Before city leaders determine how to respond, there are four questions that should be publicly answered with honesty, accuracy and confidence.
1. Why did police press release misrepresent what happened?
On the morning of Smith’s death, the Greensboro Police Department issued a press release. It said:
“While officers were attempting to transport [Smith] for mental evaluation, the subject became combative and collapsed.”
Now that video has been released from the body cameras of police officers on the scene, we know that to be untrue. Smith did not collapse. He was removed from a police car while trying to kick out a window, put to the ground by officers, hogtied and then stopped breathing. We can see the series of events for ourselves, and we have accounts from the State Medical Examiner and from a police officer on the scene as he makes a phone call to a supervisor that is recorded by his body camera.
[Smith] stated that he wanted to go to the hospital and was placed in a patrol vehicle. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were summoned; on their arrival, the decedent was screaming and hitting the windows of the vehicle.Officers opened the door of the vehicle and the decedent exited. Multiple officers then placed him prone on the ground. His hands were then cuffed behind his back, and a strap was placed on his ankles to secure them to the handcuffs behind his back. No chokeholds or conducted electrical weapons were applied. During this process, the decedent was grunting loudly, then more quietly. After restraints were applied, officers checked on him and found that he was unresponsive (not breathing, but with a pulse).
The officer’s contemporaneous account in a phone call from the scene to a supervisor is:
“We had a gentleman extremely delirious, running around high, we called EMS, he started trying to kick out the window, EMS got here, we pulled him out, we RIPP Hobbled [hogtied] him, within about a minute, he stopped breathing.”
The account given in the press release did not describe the events that occurred and concealed the actions of the police. Why? If it was an honest mistake, why was there no subsequent official correction?
2. Why did an internal investigation find no policy violations when video shows actions contrary to Police Department directives?
The City of Greensboro announced that a Greensboro Police Department internal review was completed and “no violations of policy were found.” With the police body camera video now public this finding seems implausible.
Greensboro police directives in place at the time of Smith’s restraint and death include instructions on the use of RIPP Hobble (hogtying) restraints:
“At no time shall the wrists and ankles of an arrestee be linked together using the RIPP HOBBLE restraining device, unless the arrestee can be seated in an upright position, or on their side If this is done, the knees of the arrestee will not be bent more than 90 degrees (unless extenuating circumstances exist) to prevent stress being placed on the arrestee’s chest muscles or diaphragm which might contribute to a positional asphyxia situation.”
Contrary to these directives, Smith was placed face down…
and his knees were bent more than 90 degrees…
How does the City of Greensboro explain GPD’s findings that “no violations of policy were found” in the face of these facts?
3. Why was aid not administered for more than 3 minutes when Smith stopped breathing?
The State Medical Examiner reports:
“After restraints were applied, officers checked on him and found that he was unresponsive (not breathing, but with a pulse). The restraints were removed, and he was placed on the EMS stretcher and loaded into a waiting ambulance. CPR was started in the ambulance.”
From the body camera video, we can see that more than 3 minutes elapsed from the time a police officer checked Smith’s pulse and announced “I’m not getting anything,” until CPR began in the ambulance. Why weren’t resuscitation efforts begun on Smith sooner?
4. What did the Greensboro Police Department mean in its press release when it described officers giving aid?
“While officers were attempting to transport [Smith] for mental evaluation, the subject became combative and collapsed. Both EMS and on scene officers began rendering aid.”
As noted, and seen in the video above, once officers recognized Smith had stopped breathing, there was no medical aid rendered for at least three minutes. Aid was not administered until after Smith was in the ambulance and then by the EMTs. What was the GPD press release describing when it said officers began rendering aid?
These questions are fundamental. Without honest and accurate answers, any efforts by leaders to proceed with policy or personnel decisions would be half-baked.