GREENSBORO — Greensboro police were acting reasonably when they hogtied Marcus Deon Smith in September before he became unresponsive and later died, the city says in a legal brief filed Thursday.
Smith died Sept. 8 after police restrained him with a RIPP hobble-style device, binding his hands to his feet behind him.
A federal lawsuit was filed in April on behalf of Smith’s parents against the city of Greensboro, eight Greensboro police officers, Guilford County and two Guilford County paramedics. It alleges police caused Smith’s death and the paramedics “failed to promptly attend to his serious medical needs.”
Guilford County and the paramedics filed briefs earlier this week asking that the lawsuit against them be dismissed.
Two briefs filed Thursday on behalf of the city and the eight police officers ask the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina to dismiss all of the Smiths’ claims, saying Marcus Smith’s constitutional rights were not violated.
Lawyers for the city and the officers say in the briefs that the hogtying restraint was not excessive and that courts have never ruled that use of such a device is unconstitutional.
But Smith’s family argued otherwise in its lawsuit.
Smith, 38, died of cardiopulmonary arrest caused by a variety of factors, the state medical examiner said in an autopsy report. Among them: “prone restraint” at the hands of police, cardiovascular disease, and drugs and alcohol in Smith’s system.
The report concluded that Smith’s death was a homicide.
According to the lawsuit, Greensboro police “caused Marcus’ death by brutally restraining him prone on the ground and hogtying him like an animal until he stopped breathing.”
The city’s briefs filed Thursday say police were acting within their reasonable authority when they encountered Smith.
Police responded when they found Smith near the intersection of East Market and Church streets in the early morning of Sept. 8. Police body-worn camera video shows that Smith was agitated, walking rapidly in and out of traffic, asking police for help.
“For nearly nine minutes, Smith did not comply with the officers’ requests to stay out of traffic, stay off the road, and enter a police car,” one of the city’s legal briefs says, referring to police video. He ran between vehicles on the street and toward moving police cars and said that people were trying to kill him or shoot him, the brief says, referring to the video.
“The GPD Officers recognized that Mr. Smith needed transport to the hospital in accordance with state law...” lawyers assert in the brief. “However, it was clear that some degree of restraint was necessary to allow for safe transport.”
The city says in the legal brief that Smith entered the patrol car voluntarily but he slammed his hand against the door multiple times “and the officers were concerned he would break the window.” He also “pressed his feet against the window as if to kick it out.”
Officers say in the video, according to the document, that Smith would need a hobble for transport.
“Officers did not use excessive force to restrain Mr. Smith,” the lawyers assert in the document.
According to the filing, the video shows Smith ran quickly out of the car when the door was opened and “ran into an officer with enough force to turn off his body camera.”
Smith kicked and moved his body and legs before being restrained, attorneys said in the filing.
Police placed Smith on his abdomen while they handcuffed his hands behind his back and used the hobble to attach his feet behind his back to his hands. Within “a few moments,” according to the Smith family lawsuit, he became unresponsive.
The device used on Smith is commonly referred to as a RIPP hobble. The city document notes, “RIPP is one manufacturer of hobble devices, which are generically described as ‘RIPP hobbles.’ The specific device used here was manufactured by a different company.”
The city says in its brief that “less than five seconds elapsed from the time that the hobble was initially secured to when an officer asked Smith if he was okay.”
“The restraints were immediately removed and EMS personnel began their work. The officers assisted in placing Smith on a gurney and moving him to the ambulance. The paramedics detected a pulse during this time,” the city filing says.
“Mr. Smith was later pronounced dead in the emergency room.”
The city’s brief repeats many of the allegations from the Smith family lawsuit, saying they affirm events shown in the video. But it disagrees with the family’s conclusion.
“The allegations, supported and confirmed by the footage, demonstrate that restraining Smith, then immediately checking on him and removing the restraints, was objectively reasonable in the context of this medical emergency. Smith’s constitutional rights were not violated,” the city argues in its filing.
The city says that the officers were acting within the scope of their authority and that never were their actions corrupt or malicious under the definition of the law.
The officers have “public official immunity” from claims under state law that they committed wrongful death and battery against Smith, the city argues, adding that the complaint should be dismissed.
The city document also alleges that Smith was guilty of “contributory negligence,” which means he took actions that hurt himself.
“First, Mr. Smith failed to act with due care by using alcohol and drugs,” the city argues in the filing, noting that the examiner’s autopsy report shows that “n-ethylpentalone, cocaine, and alcohol use” were factors that contributed to “sudden cardiopulmonary arrest.”
Another brief argues that the city is not responsible for Smith’s death because the family has not adequately proven that the city made any policy, omitted any police training or engaged in what the family calls a pattern of racist police violence and misconduct.
“The Complaint fails to allege a single example of such conduct or connect these vague assertions to what happened on 8 September 2018, warranting dismissal,” the city argues.
Attorneys for the city included along with their documents a DVD containing all of the police body-worn camera footage, a copy of the report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and copies of the city’s policy for “handling and transporting persons in custody.”