After more than three years, the fight is finally over.
On Tuesday evening, Greensboro City Attorney Chuck Watts announced that the city had settled a civil lawsuit with the Mary and George Smith, parents of Marcus Deon Smith who was hogtied and killed by Greensboro police officers on Sept. 8, 2018.
Since April 2019, the family had been embroiled in a civil lawsuit that involved the city of Greensboro and Guilford County, along with eight police officers, a paramedic and an EMT who were present during Smith’s death.
During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Watts noted that the city had reached a settlement of $2.57 million, the majority of which would be paid by the city of Greensboro and the remainder by Guilford County. The money would “financially benefit both the parents of Marcus Deon Smith and his children,” Watts noted.
As part of the settlement, a commemorative plaque will also be erected in Smith’s honor. Over the weekend, a group of activists constructed their own marker at the corner of Market Street and Church Street in downtown Greensboro, just yards away from where Smith was hogtied in 2018. The marker was removed less than 24 hours later.
Flint Taylor, one of the principal lawyers who represented the Smith family, echoed the statement read by Watts and stated that, “These parties will soon request judicial approval of the settlement and dismissal of the lawsuit, without any findings of wrongdoing or liability. After the settlement is concluded, these parties intend to move forward in the spirit of respect and reconciliation.”
On Wednesday, Mary Smith, who along with her husband George had made numerous trips to Greensboro from their home in South Carolina over the years to fight for justice in their son’s death, said she was relieved at the outcome.
“Yesterday after I heard what Chuck Watts had said, we were relieved, we were really relieved that it had finally come to an end,” Smith said in a phone call. “But nothing can bring him back.”
The civil rights lawsuit was filed in 2019 after an internal review by the Greensboro Police Department found no violations of policy in the conduct of the officers involved and the Guilford County District Attorney’s office found no criminal liability by the officers in November 2018. Despite the city’s findings that no policy violations had occurred, the state medical examiner classified Smith’s death as a homicide.
Over the next few years, the lawyers for the Smith family including Flint Taylor with the People’s Law Office of Chicago and Graham Holt, a local attorney, unveiled that not only had Greensboro officers’ conduct lead directly to Smith’s death, but that their practice of hogtying victims had harmed multiple other people besides Smith, a majority of them Black, many of them female. The city of Greensboro officially banned the use of the RIPP Hobble, or the practice of restraining someone by their hands and feet, in November 2020 and banned hogtying in 2018.
“[W]e were relieved, we were really relieved that it had finally come to an end. But nothing can bring him back.” – Mary Smith
On Wednesday, attorney Graham Holt noted how much he admired the Smith family and the community’s sustained efforts over the years.
“What I’ve been thinking about this morning is how much I admire Mrs. Smith and the courage it has taken to fight this and all the people that have been involved in the long haul through this,” Holt said.
And although no charges were brought against the officers involved, Holt noted that civil suits like this one are an important part of fighting for justice.
“I think lawsuits are really important in the fight for equality and they have to be seen in a greater context for the fight for equality in America,” Holt said. “When looked at from that perspective, you can see how important lawsuits are in this fight and how much work there is to be done.”
Even before the civil suit had been filed, the family saw a huge influx of support from the members of the Greensboro community. Shortly after Smith’s death — which impacted members of the homeless community particularly hard because of his involvement at the Interactive Resource Center, a day shelter for unhoused people — community members began organizing a weekly event called “Mondays for Marcus” in which they protested outside of city hall, calling for justice for the Smith family.
Mary Smith said that without the overwhelming support from the Greensboro community, she and her family couldn’t have kept up the fight.
“We couldn’t have made it without the community,” Smith said. “I’ve got to give all the props to the community, the organizations, the churches, the leaders. We cannot express the gratitude that we feel for the community that did all the footwork, the ‘Mondays for Marcus,’ the rallies, the birthdays; they have been fantastic, they were our leaning post. They pulled together with us and we will never forget what they have done for us.”
And although she and her family are glad to see the suit settled, she knows that no amount of money will bring her son back.
As time went on, the family and community members called for an independent investigation into Smith’s death, which failed due to a lack of votes by city council, and even projected their efforts to the Department of Justice. In the end, the settlement of the civil suit is what marked the conclusion of the Smith family and the community’s fight for closure. And even though the settlement is something to be excited about after three years of fighting, for Smith and her family, they know that no amount of money can bring their son back.
“I don’t think it’ll ever be closure because the pain will always be here and how he died,” Smith said. “It was an unnecessary death, truly unnecessary. But we’ll continue to go on.”
“We hope that what we’ve been through, no other family will have to go through,” Smith said. “We just hope that if they feel that something’s not right, then continue to fight.”
Find all of TCB‘s reporting on the Marcus Smith case here.
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