Who Watches the Watchmen?: Police Killings and Need for Government Oversight

Quashon Avent
Staff Writer

PC: Ann Kreutzkamp

On Sept. 8, 2018, Marcus Deon Smith was arrested after exhibiting erratic behavior in traffic. While in the back of the police car, Marcus began screaming and hitting the windows of the vehicle. Officers opened the door, placed him on the ground and hogtied him. During this process, his breathing became irregular, then stopped. Officers noticed he was unresponsive and called the EMS. Marcus was rushed to Cone Hospital, but died in the Emergency Department.

The Greensboro Police Department contacted the State Bureau of Investigation to perform an independent investigation. It was during this investigation that the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed an autopsy. The document outlines three main causes of death: Sudden cardiopulmonary arrest due to prone restraint, hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, as well as n-ethylpentylone, cocaine and alcohol use. He suffered from blunt force injuries and resuscitation-related injuries.

The Medical Examiner concluded that Marcus Smith’s death should be classified as a homicide. In Dec. 2018, the SBI closed their investigation and turned over their evidence to the District Attorney’s office. In one of his last decisions in office, District Attorney Doug Henderson decided that the officers involved were not criminally negligent for the death of Marcus Smith. In April of 2019, the Greensboro City Council considered opening an independent investigation into Smith’s death. However, the Smith family has filed a lawsuit against the police, paramedics and City of Greensboro.

Marcus Smith’s death is just another example of how hard it is to hold the police responsible for their actions. Former DA Doug Henderson stated in a letter to the police chief that the Ripp Hobble policy states that a person should be restrained in an upright position or on their side to avoid harm. However, Marcus was restrained in the prone position, which meant that police did not correctly use the Ripp Hobble device. This should be a cut-and-dried case of police negligence, but no one was held responsible. This is not surprising, as it is exceedingly rare for police killings to even make it to trial.

Now there are numerous ways to define a police killing, but I will use the definition used by MappingPoliceViolence. According to them, a police killing is, “a case where a person dies as a result of being chased, beaten, arrested, restrained, shot, pepper sprayed, tasered or otherwise harmed by police officers, whether on-duty or off-duty, intentional or accidental.”

It is almost impossible to tell how many people have been killed by police in the U.S. The federal government tracks police killings through the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), the Bureau of Justice Statistics Arrest-Related Deaths database and the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System. However, all three of these programs seriously undercount the number of deaths caused by police. Investigations by RTI International, Harvard Public Health researchers, The Guardian, The Washington Post and even the BJS themselves, determined that all three programs only recorded about half of all police killings across various years.

The high level of undercounting has been attributed to a number of factors. The ARD collects data from state reporting coordinators, which can lead to varying degrees of inaccuracy. This is because many states lack the technology to accurately collect data and fail to communicate with law enforcement and coroner’s offices. SHR relies on voluntary reports sent in by partnered agencies, which means that many departments choose not to send anything. There are actually entire states that do not report to SHR. Florida is one of them. The NVSS relies on diagnosis codes from state death certificates to indicate whether “legal intervention” was involved in a death. Many medical professionals fail to mention police involvement in these documents. I believe the most accurate databases are by The Guardian, the Washington Post, and MappingPoliceViolence, but even those have inaccuracies.

Besides the lack of data on police killings, the Justice Department struggles to ensure police are held accountable for their actions. For example, in 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended a police oversight program that was highly effective in curbing police abuse. The Collaborative Reform Initiative allowed for the federal government to reform local police departments and promote police-community relations. It allowed for local departments to request the DOJ’s help in conducting investigations of problematic law enforcement agencies and suggested ways to reform these agencies. Sessions’ new program focused on fighting gangs, drug trafficking and violent crime. The program even focused on the suppression of mass protests and allowed for local departments to request for experts in protest suppression.

DOJ police oversight became even worse in 2018. On Nov. 11, 2018, Jeff Sessions left his post as Attorney General. His last action in office was to limit the ability of federal law enforcement to use consent decrees. Consent decrees are court-ordered agreements to overhaul police departments accused of abuse and civil rights violations. Surprisingly, Sessions admitted in his final memorandum that consent decrees are sometimes the only way to ensure that law enforcement follows the law. On page two he states, “While consent decrees are sometimes necessary and appropriate to secure compliance with federal law, federal court decrees that impose wide-ranging and long-term obligations on, or require ongoing judicial supervision of, state or local governments are extraordinary remedies that ‘raise sensitive federalism concerns.’”

There is more than enough evidence that police oversight is failing. But do not take my word for it- just visit any of the police killing databases I mentioned. You can read the Greensboro News and Record, and see almost weekly allegations of police brutality. Or if you are a person of color, you will notice a level of police scrutiny that is borderline harassment. The police are not always there to protect and serve- sometimes they neglect and injure. We need more police misconduct investigations, more law enforcement transparency and more prosecutors willing to hold the police accountable for their actions. As the police grow more violent and secretive, we should ask ourselves: “Who watches the watchmen?”

Categories: Opinions

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2 replies

  1. Worth noting he wasn’t under arrest, otherwise, great piece!


  2. The Greensboro Police Department and Westerwood Neighborhood Association years before this–which is clearly much worse than I’m about to cover–both go on slander and hounding campaigns against “people without money” in District 3, of that Outling is aware of courtesy of the Bar–he’s the Council person who runs from meetings–if it sounds bizarre the unexplainable is the number of people in Westerwood who actually know that information much of it ocurring in broad daylight. Community Watch Gail Barger was often out of town, changing her social media Page to make it look as if she’s there but Barger has never told the truth in all of her life and perjured herself entirely to save herself and the GPD–she is a habitual liar who should have never been the Community Watch for a minute, she once posted dirt she found against a homeowner there to as many as possible which was not appreciated by not only him which most called “slander” from the start as it clearly was; the city made her appear as if she was there, too, for when she was in town she slandered people and slander was all that Barger ever did in the Community Watch Program, making Barger appear as if she was an awesome neighbor and the area an awesome place to live to the CW Program when there were other reasons entirely for all of that. I was told by the neighborhood association itself that Barger was often “out of town.” the city telling me outright “Barger has money, and people with money have always run things.”

    The average person cannot be the CW in Outling’s District; they will immediately find out what the police are doing there and tell someone–I did right away. On account of my big mouth, the GPD has even been to Catawba County, there are people who know that, too and for anyone who wants to bash Sheriff Barnes well, sorry, his people went after “these people who keep coming to you” sending Barger packing and Kim Maynard, too, both of whom came to the property repeatedly in efforts to have me charged, that much I could see from the start.

    I took all of that straight to GPDHQ where I was puffed-up on by Sgt. Patterson who would eventually deny the connection between Barger and Maynard who I would later see hanging-out with the GPD during National Night Out an even that CRO Ben Wingfield told me he didn’t want to see me at. I was also asked why I attended Preservation Greensboro as well as stopped time and again by under-covers asking for “Directions to the Coliseum” and once to “Rice Toyota..?” which was a welcome change from the tired, old Coliseum crap.

    I actually threw together some shoddy reviews on Google Reviews, Dixie’s Fish and Chicken, Victoria’s Secret Valley Hills Mall, McKay’s as I’ve posted this plenty so started to spread it around so the public will know it; it’s nearly the entire Department in the event no one knows that yet, and when people were getting pulled and claiming it was for reasons having nothing to do with the law I actually didn’t believe them then. Speaking of taking off, I confronted Chief Hinson in Center City Park, October 18, 2014–he told me he would get Barger out of the Program which would have pleased the majority, but he never did leaving her there for another several years when again she was never really there and was probably on vacation most of the time during that period as well. and of course I was the one that went to the city with a problem, there’s a lot of people who know that, too, one of the people who came to me to start a fight and get away with it, Andrew “Clyde the Closet” Swofford who recently made the Web. But he’s been picking-up dope in Lake Daniel Park for so long everyone knew that, too; he was not, however, busted every time he did it for his mother was the Treasurer of the WNA at the time–she “had money” but apparently not enough for attempting a hug after contemplating a shag rug was not his first B&E by far. Swofford had broken into a home two properties behind mine–who told me that? The Greensboro Police Department did who also told me during a call I made “Have you ever gone to the neighborhood association (about this person you’ve called about?) They can get rid of people.”


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