Marcus Deon Smith was a once-promising high school basketball player who had hoped to make a new start as a professional barber. After an early-morning police encounter in downtown Greensboro on Sept. 8, Smith was transported by EMS to a local hospital and died about an hour later.
A police press release describes the 38-year-old Smith as a “disoriented suicidal subject” who officers found running in and out of traffic on the 100 block of North Church Street near the Governor’s Square Condominiums at 12:45 a.m. The press release indicates that Emergency Medical Services arrived on the scene five minutes after the police. The police said while officers were trying to transport Smith for a mental evaluation, he “became combative and collapsed.”
The press release further says that officers and EMS personnel began rendering aid, and that Smith was then transported by EMS to a local hospital. The police said Smith passed away at about 1:50 a.m. The four officers involved in the incident were identified by the agency as AG Lewis and JC Payne, both with the Center City Resource Team, and LA Andrews and RR Duncan, both assigned to patrol. With the exception of Duncan, who joined the force in 2016, the other three officers have served since 2009 or 2010. Ronald Glenn Jr., the public information officer for the Greensboro Police Department declined to provide additional details about the circumstances of Smith’s death.
Smith was a longtime guest at the Interactive Resource Center, an agency that provides support services to people experiencing homelessness.
“This is somebody I’ve known for a long time and saw on a regular basis, and was very much a part of the day-to-day at the IRC,” Executive Director Michelle Kennedy said. “Like the rest of us, his life was not perfect, but it was still important, and he impacted a lot of people.”
Kennedy also serves as an at-large member on Greensboro City Council.
Tiffany Dumas said she got to know Smith in her role as volunteer coordinator when he first showed up as a guest at the center in 2012. Dumas now serves as a peer support specialist.
“Every time I got depressed he gave me encouragement,” Dumas said. “He was so intelligent. He treated you with dignity, whether you were gay, straight or transgender. He was a very inspirational leader in this community. I’m upset because he gave so much to everyone else, but he could never get to the greater for himself.”
Smith left behind three children, including a teenaged son in South Carolina, and 2-year-old in Greensboro and a 1-year-old in Raleigh, Dumas said.
Smith had been a promising basketball player, Dumas said, but was sidelined by a torn ligament in his senior year. She said the setback sent him down a spiral of depression. When he relocated from South Carolina to Greensboro, Smith initially didn’t want his family to know that he was experiencing homelessness. Dumas said Smith would often say that he didn’t want to disappoint his mother. Eventually, Smith’s parents learned about his situation.
“I would talk to his mom and dad; they would come to visit him,” Dumas said. “He had a very supportive family. He was taught by his father to make better choices.”
Smith was known as the “IRC barber” because he cut hair for the other guests, Dumas said. The staff at the Interactive Resource Center noticed Smith’s talent and introduced him to Gene Blackmon, the owner of Prestige Barber College.
“He’s been cutting hair for a really long time, and he was trying to make some changes in his life,” Kennedy said. “He’d never been able to get it together to get his barber license. It’s a fairly expensive process. We had made a commitment that as he sorted out his personal issues he would attend barber college. We had made a commitment to support him and help him get his barber license as he turned that corner in life.”
The encounter between Smith and the police is under investigation by the Greensboro Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation. The four officers involved have been placed on administrative duty.
Dumas, who identifies as a gay woman, said Smith was like family to many of the guests and staff at the Interactive Resource Center.
“I have never loved anybody in my life the way I loved him,” Dumas said, “because he had so much potential. There were so many things that got in his way. He wanted greater for himself and his children.
“When you start listening to folks and having dialogue, you start talking about connections,” she added. “We’re trying to get somewhere, each one of us. We cultivate a culture of community and family, and we don’t judge; we care for each other. He was an IRC family member that we lost. We’ve lost so many, but this one hit home.”