Testimony continues in Webster trial

DOVER — A Dover police lieutenant told a Kent County courtroom Wednesday he was “surprised’ when he saw Cpl. Thomas Webster IV kick a suspect in the head and break his jaw in August 2013.

Also Wednesday, a forensic criminologist testified he believed the suspect, Lateef Dickerson, then 29, didn’t present an imminent danger to the police corporal at the time of the alleged assault.

Cpl. Webster, 42, is on trial in Superior Court on charges of second-degree felony assault stemming from that Aug. 24, 2013, incident.

Thomas W. Webster IV

Thomas W. Webster IV

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Delaware ACLU said Wednesday a lawsuit against Cpl. Webster and the city on behalf of Mr. Dickerson had been “resolved.” She declined to provide further details.

When the state rested its case Wednesday against Cpl. Webster, the defense called two officers to testify.

Dover Police Department Lt. Christopher Hermance, who teamed with Cpl. Webster IV to take Mr. Dickerson into custody at 11 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2013, testified that he was surprised when Cpl. Webster kicked Mr. Dickerson’s head, breaking his jaw and rendering him unconscious.

Cpl. Webster was suspended without pay by the Dover Police Department after he was indicted in May 2015.

Lt. Hermance also said he previously watched Cpl. Webster attempt to sweep Mr. Dickerson off his feet from behind to bring him to the ground, but said the unsuccessful attempt escalated his concerns of the ongoing dangerous apprehension.

After traveling from the downtown area in his patrol car, Lt. Hermance arrived at the scene on Maple Parkway near U.S. 13 that late summer night, he said he intended to take the suspect into custody and order him to the ground at gunpoint, and the officers were facing the highest threat level possible.

The person he contacted had been reported to possibly have a firearm, Lt. Hermance said, and was “fooling” with his pants while not complying with commands to go to the ground; the officer said he thought Mr. Dickerson would “produce something” with his hands by his waist.

The area was not deemed safe by police until moments after Mr. Dickerson was kicked, Lt. Hermance said, when it was apparent no other persons were in the vicinity to possibly “ambush” the officers and a search for evidence began.

After Mr. Dickerson hit the pavement and was handcuffed by Cpl. Webster, Lt. Hermance said it would have been a good time to check for a weapon.

The first officer involved, Cpl. Leonard Nester, testified that he arrived at a Hess gas station on U.S. 13 to witness an assault in progress with people “bailing everywhere” running in all directions, including a man in a yellow shirt and yellow hat. Mr. Nester said he was the arresting officer and Mr. Dickerson was eventually charged with resisting.

Earlier in the day, a witness for the prosecution said after reviewing dashcam video and police reports, he did not believe Cpl. Webster’s kick to Mr. Dickerson’s head was warranted.

The testimony came during the second day of the trial, which was originally scheduled for five days.

Dr. Ron Martinelli, a police officer for more than 30 years and now a forensic criminologist, certified medical investigator and police practices expert, said he believed that Mr. Dickerson, 29 at the time, was not presenting an imminent threat to Cpl. Webster and another police officer during the incident near a Hess gas station on U.S. 13 at approximately 11 p.m.

While Mr. Dickerson initially appeared to be reluctant to follow officer commands, Dr. Martinelli testified, his palms and one knee were on the ground when the kick was administered, indicating movement to his stomach.

An initial aggressive response by police was warranted, Dr. Martinelli believed, due to the nature of a suspect reportedly possessing a firearm and some of Mr. Dickerson’s clothing and physical characteristics matching information presented to the officers.

Also, Dr. Martinelli testified, Cpl. Webster was justified in apparently kicking the back of Mr. Dickerson’s leg beforehand in an attempt to take control of the confrontation.

Just prior to the trial beginning on Monday, he rejected a plea offer to misdemeanor third-degree assault, surrendering all law enforcement certification and agreeing not to work as a police officer again.

Before the final afternoon session began at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Judge Ferris Wharton notified the courtroom spectators that the jury had notified the bailiff regarding distracting conversations and “You can watch or you can talk, but you can’t do both,” the judge said. “ … If you engage in conversation, you will be asked to leave.”

During the day, up to 40 audience members or more packed into the courtroom, with no extra seats available at times.

Judge Wharton scheduled a 9:30 a.m. start to today’s proceedings.

Just prior to the trial beginning on Monday, he rejected a plea offer to misdemeanor third-degree assault, surrendering all law enforcement certification and agreeing not to work as a police officer again.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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