A newly retired Greensboro, N.C., prosecutor decided against charging local police in the death of a Black man who died after being placed in a RIPP Hobble device ahead of his transport to a hospital.
Former Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson sent a letter to Police Chief Wayne Scott detailing a probe led by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Scott said that despite the tragic manner of death that Marcus Deon Smith lost his life in September, the officers acted responsibly and within the law in how they treated him.
“It was concluded that from the overall death investigation and postmortem examination that the cause of death was a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest due in part to the prone restraint, a combination of illicit drugs and alcohol, and hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease,” Henderson, who retired on Jan. 2, said in a letter obtained by the Rhino Times Jan. 4.
His statement is conducive to what the North Carolina medical examiner’s office said in an autopsy report. It also ruled 38-year-old Smith’s death a homicide.
“Left for this Office’s determination is whether those actions by the officers provide a basis for a criminal homicide by committing a culpably negligent act,” Henderson said further in his memo. “The unequivocal answer is that there is no evidence to substantiate a basis for criminal charges in this matter.”
Graham Holt, the Smith family’s attorney, said they are disappointed in the decision.
Smith was restrained using a RIPP Hobble, which binds the ankles and includes a strap that is used to attach the ankles to the handcuffs shackling the subject’s hands behind the back. Henderson said that Smith wasn’t taken to the hospital using what is commonly known as a hogtie. However, he did dictate that the medical examiner said the device contributed to his death.
After Henderson’s retirement, Avery Crump was sworn in and became the first woman and first Black district attorney in Guilford County.
Henderson’s letter comes nearly a month after footage of the incident was released. Videos show an agitated Smith pacing along the street indicating he’s in danger and saying, “I’m gonna kill myself,” the Winston-Salem Journal reported in December. After police asked him to stop so they can provide assistance, they eventually put him the back of a cop car without restraints. The RIPP Hobble was put into place after Smith’s agitation led police to open the car door. Smith rushed out and police took him to the ground before struggling to place him handcuffs.
As the restraining continued, Smith appeared to gasp for breath before lying still. Officers checked for a pulse and removed the restraints so that paramedics could treat him. He was taken to a local hospital to receive further treatment and died an hour later.
“This video breaks my heart, hearing him gasping for air,” said Smith’s sister, Kim Suber, at the time. “I feel the paramedics are just as responsible. He clearly asked for help. Each and every police officer that was there, each and every paramedic, you failed your profession.”