The monthly Greensboro City Council town hall meeting Tuesday, Dec. 4 was unusually heated, with a lot shouting and noise from the audience. Near the end of the meeting two councilmembers got into a heated exchange over a statement made by Mayor Nancy Vaughan that the city would hire mental health professionals to assist police.
There were 45 speakers and the majority spoke about the death of Marcus Deon Smith, who collapsed while police were attempting to restrain him in the early morning hours of Sept. 8. After he collapsed, Smith was transported to the hospital by Guilford County Emergency Medical Service where he died.
The North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled the death a homicide. Both drugs and alcohol as well as evidence of cardiovascular disease were found as contributing factors in his death.
On Friday the Greensboro Police Department released the body worn camera videos of the entire encounter with the police. Those videos are posted on the city’s website.
Smith had been running in and out of traffic on Church Street in a mentally distressed and disoriented state when the police apprehended him. Several times he said someone was trying to kill him and he also said he was going to kill himself.
Many of the speakers said that the police officers who were attempting to restrain Smith “murdered” or “killed” him. Numerous speakers called for Police Chief Wayne Scott to be fired. Some insisted that Scott, City Manager David Parrish and Interim City Attorney Jim Hoffmann all be fired and said that the City Council should be forced to resign.
There was a lot of extremely heated rhetoric coming from the speakers and no one was there to defend the actions of the police officers involved in the incident.
After the City Council had heard the last speaker, Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter made an attempt to defend the actions of the police officers. Abuzuaiter was repeatedly shouted down and Vaughan pleaded with the crowd to allow Abuzuaiter to speak.
After many attempts Abuzuaiter finally made a couple of statements about the actions of police. She noted that Smith was allowed to sit in the back of a police car unrestrained until he started trying to break the windows. Abuzuaiter pointed out that if he had been successful in breaking the window Smith likely would have been injured.
She also noted that the Emergency Medical Technician who arrived on the scene insisted that Smith be restrained before he was transported to the hospital.
Abuzuaiter finally said, “I really can’t judge in this that the officers did wrong.”
Councilmember Justin Outling asked questions about a comment made by Vaughan before the public was allowed to speak. Vaughan had said that not only would the police officers receive more training in handling people with mental health issues, but also that the city would hire mental health professionals to assist police officers.
Outling who said he didn’t know anything about that plan until he heard it had been announced at a public meeting on Monday night, asked where the five votes were to approve it. Vaughan had stated the city was going to start hiring mental health professionals as a fact not as something that was under consideration.
Outling asked how it was going to work. How much it would cost and where the money was coming from.
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy defended the mayor’s statement that Greensboro was going to hire mental health professionals and Outling tried to get answers out of Kennedy. The two ended up in a heated exchange. Since people in the audience joined in with their shouted comments it was difficult to hear what anyone was saying.
Kennedy said that she watched the police body worn camera videos with Vaughan, and Councilmembers Sharon Hightower and Nancy Hoffman and they decided to start hiring mental health professionals to work with police.
Four councilmembers holding a secret, closed, unofficial meeting can’t legally decide the City Council is going to do anything.
The cost of creating a Greensboro mental health department with a staff that would be on call to assist police officers whenever they were involved with people with mental health issues would be astronomical and would most likely require a considerable tax increase.
A friend who is a former longtime paramedic with GCES has viewed all 17 body camera videos and said that it’s pretty clear that the police and paramedics on the scene did all they could to safely control Mr. Smith and render him care as soon as it was obvious he was not breathing. The police had been called there because Mr. Smith was out of control and disrupting the public and traffic on the street. He was not cooperating, was not staying safely in the patrol car, was harming himself and a danger to others and needed to be restrained in order to be transported to the hospital. Paramedics will not transport patients that are a potential harm to them or their driving because of their behavior and he could not be chemically restrained before he was physically restrained and examined to determine what kind of medications or drugs he had in his system for fear of potentially harming him. Once it was clear he wasn’t breathing his restraints were removed and CPR was given until they arrived at the hospital. Police are involved to protect the public from people who can harm others, to mitigate the danger and to maintain control of a situation. In this case, they did what they could but without Mr. Smith’s ability to participate in their care for him there wasn’t a positive outcome. Had he been left on his own the outcome was most likely going to be the same, he was going to bash his head on the window of the patrol car, be hit by oncoming cars in the street, his heart and the drugs were going to continue to interact to his demise, he was going to continue to behave in an outrageous manner so that someone defended themselves, he was spiraling out of control to an untimely end. It’s really sad. The police were trying to help the people in the area and Mr. Smith. It didn’t turn out well for everyone.
What can be learned? Yes, protocols can be adjusted for dealing with potential mental patients so that restraining doesn’t involve “hog tying” but perhaps use another type of restraint that is effective and not life-threatening. Families should be informed as soon as possible and kept up to date with all the information available. Body camera video should be reviewed as soon as possible (which in this case it was, as was the autopsy report). People shouldn’t take illegal drugs and go out to public events. Citizens can not ask the police to protect them and prevent crime but do that selectively when it only suits their specific needs, so they need to decide what they want the police to do and when they want them to do it. That way no one will be confused.
I have heard many friends from the black community defending the police officers after see the body cam footage. These are radical leftists starting this garbage. Devisive hate mongers.
Can we get mental health professionals to work with the liberal staff and elected council members? They obviously are insane…l am moving as this town is already down the toilet!