A pregnant Black woman crying out for two minutes while being restrained.

An elderly woman with dementia complaining about the pain in her arms.

Multiple victims crying out that they “can’t breathe.”

These are just a few examples of incidents in which Greensboro police officers hogtied people in the months leading up to the killing of Marcus Deon Smith on Sept. 8, 2018. The revelations came out through an additional brief and motion filed by the Smith family’s legal tam late on Monday night.

The examples of people being hogtied or “maximally restrained” by Greensboro police officers were described by the Smith team in the motion after they viewed body-worn camera footage from the 50 incidents leading back from Marcus Smith’s death. They were able to do so after a judge upheld a decision to compel the city to turn the footage over to the Smith team. According to Flint Taylor, the lead attorney with the People’s Law Office in Chicago for the Smith family, the footage from the body-worn cameras is essential to the civil lawsuit because the police incident reports turned over by the city aren’t detailed in how or why people were hogtied. While a RIPP Hobble device can be used by police in different ways to tie hands and feet together, Taylor said that in the 50 cases that they watched, people were restrained in the same manner Marcus Smith was, with hands and feet tied together behind their backs, facedown.

The lead attorney for the Smith family, Flint Taylor, speaks to activists in front of the federal courthouse after the judge’s decision on June 25. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

“The videos show what actually happened whereas the reports did not,” Taylor said. “All the reports did was identify incidents where the word ‘maximum restraint,’ i.e. hogtying, appeared in the report, but the police who hogtied were under no obligation to describe who was hogtied, how they were hogtied, that kind of thing.”

The city of Greensboro officially banned the use of the RIPP Hobble, or restraining someone by their hands and feet, in November last year and banned hogtying in 2018, after Smith’s death.

According to Taylor, he and three others who are a part of the legal team split up the work of watching the videos from the 50 incidents dating from Dec. 19, 2017 to Sept. 7, 2018. Of the 50 incidents viewed, 38 victims are Black, amounting to 76 percent. Also, 24 of the victims were women, amounting to 48 percent and “all of the women were hogtied either by all male officers or by a crew of majority white officers.” According to previous data released by the Smith family lawyers, in 275 instances from 2014-18 in which Greensboro police officers hogtied people, approximately 68 percent of the victims were Black and about 17 percent were experiencing a mental health crisis.

For this newly released set of incidents, Taylor said a number of factors appeared to prompt officers to use the maximum restraint, otherwise known as a RIPP Hobble.

“Some were having mental-health crises, some of them were being arrested or stopped for relatively minor things like a DWI, for falling asleep in a car or being involved in a car accident,” Taylor said. “Just all sorts of things that the officers, by and large, rather than deescalating end up escalating and hogtying. So yes, there certainly were situations where people like Marcus Smith were having mental-health crises, but more frequently, they were just regular citizens where there was some kind of relatively minor transgression that escalated into a situation where police officers hogtied them.”

As part of the motion, Taylor and his team are asking to reopen the discovery process in the civil suit so that they can depose again some of the officers involved in the death of Marcus Smith and who were also shown to be involved in some of the 50 incidents. If discovery is reopened, the Smith family’s lawyers will have the opportunity to ask specific questions about how Greensboro police officers acted in each of the 50 incidents that they have viewed.

According to the brief, at least 12 of the incidents involve one or more of the officers who were involved in Smith’s death. Now, the legal team is petitioning the courts to ask to reopen the discovery phase of the case so they can ask further questions of the officers as part of the suit. As part of the brief, the Smith team is also asking for the courts to order the city to release body-worn camera footage from 28 additional hogtying incidents from Jan. 2014 to Nov. 2017 in which the officers who are listed as defendants in the suit, were involved.

Some of the videos released to the team involving the defendant officers include the hogtying of a Black woman who was restrained with her legs “at less than 90 degrees from her body, left prone on the ground for more than five minutes, with her breasts exposed, yelling and screaming in pain, outrage and humiliation.” Another example noted the “hogtying of a Black victim without apparent cause” with the defendant stating that “he ends up RIPP Hobbling people all the time for some reason.”

Last month, both the city and the Smith family agreed to reconsider mediation as part of the civil suit, something that has not taken place since October 2020. However, the new motion and brief filed by the Smith team on Monday may change the course of that mediation.

“I think the motion that we filed certainly is a game-changer in the litigation,” Taylor said. “It speaks for itself in terms of the power of these videos and what they depict…. It’s not only for the public but for the city council and other public officials to actually know what was going on routinely in their name and in that sense, I think that this motion speaks to that question and we’re asking to be able to fully explore this evidence which the city fought so hard not to give us, but now that we have it, it is a powerful weapon in the litigation going forward.”

Taylor also noted that he believes that the city should reconsider pursuing an independent investigation into Smith’s death, something that councilperson Michelle Kennedy supported, but was apparently overruled on during a closed city council session in June. While Kennedy could not be reached in time for publication of this piece, she has supported an independent investigation into both Smith’s death as well as a wider departmental investigation of the Greensboro police department as a whole. Taylor stated that in his view, the new information brought upon by the Smith team’s motion should compel the city to pursue an independent investigation.

Councilmember Michelle Kennedy read a statement during the June 1, 2021 Greensboro city council meeting that said the city would not be pursuing an independent investigation into the death of Marcus Smith at this time. (screenshot)

“I think the sheer weight of watching all of these videos and analyzing all of these videos was shocking as well and should be viewed by the city council and the mayor so that they can reconsider their cavalier secret decision not to have an independent investigation that Michelle Kennedy called for,” Taylor said. “She called for an independent investigation not only into the Marcus Smith hogtying but also into the culture of the police department…and these videos are an incredibly powerful support for such an investigation showing the systemic racist disparities in hogtying and the brutal and unnecessary and routine nature of hogtying within the department.”

Chuck Watts, the attorney for the city, declined to comment when reached by phone on Tuesday. The city now has a few weeks to respond to their motion. The full brief outlining the incidents can be viewed here.

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