GREENSBORO — After a federal judge ordered the release of police videos related to incidents where people were restrained in the same manner used on Marcus Smith before he died — with hands and feet tied behind the back — the city has asked the court to stay that order while it prepares objections.
The request made Thursday would temporarily delay a judge’s April order for the city to turn over video of 50 such incidents within 45 days.
The federal judge had ruled on a request by lawyers for the family of Smith, an unarmed Black man who died almost three years ago while in police custody.
Smith’s mother and his estate have sued the city, eight police officers and two Guilford County paramedics in federal court for wrongful death in a controversial case that has scarred Greensboro and the police department.
On a September night in 2018, police used a type of restraint known as a RIPP Hobble device to subdue and immobilize an agitated Smith, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis and seeking help from officers.
Lawyers for the family are arguing that the Greensboro Police Department has a history of improperly restraining others in a similar fashion.
Like other departments across the country, Greensboro has since outlawed the use of the RIPP Hobble device as well as the practice of binding a person’s hands to their feet when detaining them.
The city has argued that combing through scores of videos from officers’ body-worn cameras to find instances similar to what happened to Smith would be burdensome and a state requirement to get Superior Court approval for the release of each video would require extensive manpower.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe L. Webster ruled that videos in the federal case could be turned over to the Smith family lawyers without Superior Court approval because they would not be made public under rules both sides in the case have agreed to regarding release of court materials.
In its Thursday motion, the city said fulfilling the order would be difficult because the 50 incidents involve at least 681 body-camera videos from 274 officers totaling about 176 hours of footage.
“The city would face significant hardship absent a stay,” according to the legal brief.
The city said in the motion it will file more complete objections to the decision by June 2.
Local activists have seized on the Smith case as one that closely resembles many examples around the nation in which unarmed Black men died in police custody and it has received new attention in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
On the night of Sept. 8, 2018, an agitated Smith approached officers who were working a downtown festival and asked for their help.
The 38-year-old agreed to sit in a patrol car before being taken to a hospital, but he became severely disturbed. When police opened the door, they placed him on the ground, binding his hands and feet behind his back.
Within several minutes, Smith became quiet and stopped breathing.
He was pronounced dead after being taken to a local hospital.
A state medical examiner said that Smith died of cardiopulmonary arrest caused by a variety of factors. Among them: “prone restraint” at the hands of police, cardiovascular disease and drugs and alcohol in his system.
The autopsy report concluded that Smith’s death was a homicide.
In April, the Smith family released findings from an outside medical examiner that concluded the excessive force placed on Smith’s body caused by the way he was restrained led to his death.
Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.