Featured photo: The lead attorney for the Smith family, Flint Taylor, speaks after the judge’s ruling outside of the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem on June 25. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)
A federal judge ruled on Friday afternoon to uphold a previous judge’s decision compelling the city of Greensboro to produce body-worn camera footage involving hogtying incidents as part of the Marcus Smith lawsuit.
The decision was made by Judge Loretta C. Biggs after both parties — the lawyers representing the Smith family as well as lawyers for the city — made their cases as to why or why not, Judge Joe L. Webster’s April ruling should be upheld.
“Our task here is not to relitigate the motion to compel,” Biggs said. “We are here to make a determination on whether Judge Webster made a determination erroneously.”
In the end, after about three hours of back and forth between the parties, Biggs upheld Webster’s April ruling to compel the city of Greensboro to produce body-worn camera footage from 50 incidents in which individuals in custody were hogtied prior to Smith’s death.
The ruling was made as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit between the city of Greensboro and the Smith estate including Marcus Deon Smith’s parents, Mary and George Smith. After Judge Webster’s initial ruling from April 28, the city — represented by attorneys Alan Duncan, Stephen Russell and Hillary Kies — filed a motion to stay the order to produce the camera footage, meaning they asked for a pause on the motion. Friday’s ruling by Judge Biggs upholds Webster’s decision and once again compels the city to produce the body-worn camera footage, this time by July 16.
In their arguments, attorneys Duncan and Russell made repeated claims that the production of the footage was irrelevant to the lawsuit because they did not include footage of Marcus Smith nor did many of the incidents involve the eight police officers who killed Marcus Smith who are also involved with the lawsuit. The city’s attorneys also made the argument that producing the footage would be too burdensome and take too much time and resources.
On the Smith family’s side, attorney Flint Taylor argued against the city’s assertion that the 50 body-worn camera videos were irrelevant. During the discovery process, Taylor said that they found out that there had been close to 300 incidents in the five years dating back to when Smith was hogtied in Sept. 2018 in which other individuals were also hogtied. At least one individual was hogtied just hours before Smith was, according to Taylor. He said that while his team has been given incident reports from those same years that show whether or not someone was hogtied or as the city calls it, “maximally restrained,” that the police reports do not show the extent to which the restraints were used.
“They don’t show how long it took, how much force was applied, whether the person cried out in pain,” Taylor said during this arguments. “That’s all relevant.”
To see that, the attorneys would need access to the body-worn camera footage, he said.
“If they had detailed reports, we wouldn’t be here,” Taylor said.
Initially, Taylor said that his team had requested to see body-worn camera footage from all 294 incidents which included 50 incidents in which at least one of the eight officers involved in Smith’s death were present. However, Judge Webster narrowed the scope of Taylor and his team’s ask to just 50 pieces of body-worn camera footage from the most recent incidents dating back from Smith’s death.
Taylor says the body-worn camera footage from those hogtying incidents could construe violations of constitutional rights and cold show a pattern of lack of training when it comes to the use of the RIPP Hobble, or the hogtying mechanism. The city of Greensboro officially banned the use of the RIPP Hobble or restraining someone by their hands and feet was banned last year.
According to Taylor, his team analyzed the incident reports given to them from the city in which officers used the RIPP Hobble and found that in the 294 incidents, 68 percent of the victims were Black and about 15 percent were experiencing mental-health crises. Triad City Beat has submitted a public records request for police incident reports in which officers have hogtied people from Sept. 2014 to Sept. 2018, but the city has denied TCB’s request citing that the documents are not public record because they are part of legal proceedings.
After Biggs’ ruling, Mary Smith, Marcus Deon Smith’s mother, said she was thankful for her decision.
“We are just so excited that the judge ruled in our favor,” she said. “This has been a long journey and we will continue to fight.”
Taylor, the lead attorney for the Smith family, said he too, was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“I think it strongly reaffirms our right to access the videos,” he said. “We feel that it’s in the spirit of the importance of the case.”
Outside of the courthouse, surrounded by activists who have been advocating on behalf of Marcus Smith and his family, Taylor spoke passionately about how supportive the community has been towards the family and to him as the legal counsel. He also said he believes that both judges acted on right side of history.
“We appreciate that Judge Biggs did the right thing in this case,” Taylor said. “We appreciate that Judge Webster did the right thing in this case, and we hope that judges continue to do the right thing in the future.”
The lawyers for the city declined to comment on the Judge Biggs’ ruling.
As the group outside began to pack up, Mary Smith yelled one final chant before she and George walked away, hand in hand.
“What’s his name?,” she yelled.
“Marcus Smith,” the group answered.
Additional reporting on this case can be found here.