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GREENSBORO — A judge denied a joint motion filed by the city and county in the Marcus Smith wrongful death lawsuit that would have halted the next phase of the case.

Smith, a Black man, died in the custody of Greensboro police in 2018 when officers restrained him with a RIPP hobble-style device, binding his hands and feet behind him. The Greensboro Police Department has since stopped using the device.

Smith’s family is suing Guilford County, the city of Greensboro, eight officers and two paramedics, alleging they violated Smith’s constitutional rights by improperly restraining him and failing to treat his medical issues.

A federal judge ruled that several claims in the lawsuit could move forward, but in early June, the city and county filed a motion to stay the case until Smith’s legal heirs were determined in a separate legal proceeding.

Magistrate Judge Joe L. Webster signed an order Thursday denying the city and county’s motion.

Community members had called the motion an attempt to delay the trial because it would have delayed the start of the discovery phase, during which both sides gather and share evidence ahead of the trial.

The Rev. Nelson Johnson criticized the decision in mid-June.

“The issues that they raise will have no bearing whatsoever on whether the police officers wrongfully restrained our brother Marcus and caused his death,” Johnson said June 16 during a news conference at the Phill G. McDonald Governmental Plaza.

Johnson and others became increasingly concerned with the joint motion when City Attorney Chuck Watts said that he wasn’t asking for a stay during a council meeting later in the day on June 16. Community members called for him to be fired, saying he lied to the council and people of Greensboro.

Watts later said he misspoke by saying they were not asking for a stay, but said he stood by the intent of what he said — that it would not be a complete stay of the litigation, but a delay of the beginning of discovery.

Webster’s ruling on the motion also ordered discovery be due by April 2, 2021.

Contact Jamie Biggs at

336-373-4476 and follow

@JamieBiggsNR on Twitter.

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