GREENSBORO — In anger mixed with tears, the family of Marcus Deon Smith said Monday that the Greensboro Police Department killed their son and brother.
Smith, 38, died on Sept. 8 after he was hogtied by Greensboro police officers.
“You know, you see brutality on TV and you just have compassion for those people,” his mother, Mary Smith, told a group of about 150 supporters in a packed assembly room at Shiloh Baptist Church. “But you never, ever think it’s going to walk up and knock on your door. Greensboro Police Department, I’m going to say, murdered my son.”
The community meeting was a chance for family members, their attorney, and clergy to ask the Greensboro City Council for action in Smith’s death, which was ruled a homicide last week by the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The family and other community organizers have asked the city council to:
- Apologize to and compensate Smith’s family.
- Enact “serious and swift consequences” for the people involved in the case, including Police Chief Wayne Scott.
- Ban the hogtie restraint outright and train officers how to handle mental health issues non-violently.
- To establish and commit to “a legitimate process to investigate all serious allegations of police misconduct and excessive force and reform the culture and policies of the Greensboro Police Department.”
Monday’s meeting was also a chance for many to watch police body camera footage for the first time of Smith’s encounter with police.
Smith died of cardiopulmonary arrest caused by a variety of factors including “prone restraint” at the hands of police as well as a combination of drugs, alcohol and cardiovascular disease, the state medical examiner said in an autopsy report released Friday. The report also ruled Smith’s death a homicide.
Several of more than a dozen videos from police body-worn cameras posted online by the city Friday show a disoriented and agitated Smith running and walking back and forth on Church Street near its intersection with East Market Street.
Smith often asks for help and says at least once, “I’m gonna kill myself,” and also suggests he is in danger. Police stand back and ask him to stop so they can help him. Eventually they put him in the back of a police car without restraints.
Smith in the video becomes so agitated in the car that police open the door and he rushes out. Within minutes officers put him on the ground and, with a bit of struggle, they cuff his hands behind his back and begin to bind his feet to his hands in what is called the RIPP Hobble restraint.
Smith yells and struggles and appears to gasp for breath during the process. Then he becomes still and officers check for a pulse, then begin to untie him so emergency workers can treat him.
Police said in a news release in September that officers responded to the scene around 12:42 a.m. Paramedics arrived about five minutes later.
Police said Smith died about an hour after he was taken to a hospital for further treatment.
Greensboro city officials have said that officers followed proper procedures in the events before Smith’s death.
Graham Holt, the Smith family’s attorney, presented select portions of the footage Monday night that shows police putting Smith on the ground and binding his hands and feet. Holt said the video shows Smith gasping for air and then dying before police can untie him for paramedics to help him.
Kim Suber, Smith’s sister, said after the video was shown: “This video breaks my heart, hearing him gasping for air. I feel the paramedics are just as responsible. He clearly asked for help. Each and every police officer that was there, each and every paramedic, you failed your profession.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan and council members Michelle Kennedy and Sharon Hightower attended Monday night’s meeting.
They are likely to hear much more from the community at their regular meeting Tuesday night, which is set aside for open comments from members of the public.
When the meeting’s organizers opened up the floor Monday for comment from the audience, one man said, “The chief of police needs to be fired.”