22 Camden protestors won’t face prosecution

Adaria Bracy, at a rally in early June, lies face down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in front of the Dover Police Department, signifying the amount of time George Floyd was pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer prior to his death last month. Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

WILMINGTON — Seeking expanded common ground in a time of ample social unrest, Delaware’s attorney general announced on Wednesday that 22 people arrested during a June 9 protest in Camden will not be prosecuted.

AG Kathy Jennings said the determination followed evidence review including videos and photos from the scene, 911 recordings, dispatch records and police reports. Citizen generated video that was reviewed was posted online at attorneygeneral.delaware.gov.

Also, Justice Department officials had several hours of meetings with Dover- and Camden-area protesters, police and community advocates to gain greater perspective on their viewpoints, AG Jennings said.

“We discussed the disparate role of race that pervades America — no more or less with prosecutors and police than in all corners of our society,” the attorney general said.

“We heard compassion and empathy for the community. But what struck me was their overlapping message: everyone — protesters and police — wants the same things. Equal treatment under the law. A decent life for their families. A fair chance at the American Dream.”

Ultimately, despite demands to investigate police and prosecute protesters, the attorney general said neither action would assist in building better overall relations between the community and law enforcement.

“I may be demonized equally by those who push criminal convictions against protesters who were aggressive but non-violent, or against police who made arrests,” AG Jennings said.

“Perhaps this is as good a sign as any that we must put June 9 behind us and find common ground.”

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson Jr. met with the attorney general on Tuesday afternoon “and agreed it was in the best interest of our community to move forward and work together to make positive changes in our community.

“We look forward to working with government leaders and community stakeholders to improve our community,” spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

On Wednesday, the Disrupt to Focus group which includes, among others, those taken into custody during the Camden protest, issued a statement that read, in part:

“While Camden22 of Disrupt to Focus are thankful that charges have been dropped, we would also like to be clear that we and Dover Police have never engaged in community building discussions with the Attorney General or anyone else.

“During detainment, several officers antagonized protesters by insisting that they had been waiting for the opportunity to detain our group. During the three weeks of protesting, we never intended to endanger the public. According to the Attorney General, we should not have been arrested for acts of civil disobedience which is contradictory to the statements made by arresting officers that the arrest was ordered by the AG.

“Video footage does not support AG Jennings claim, in fact it supports officers socializing as they planned out their ambush to detain us. …

“We’re still trying to come to terms with her mention of the memorials that were vandalized, because it had already been determined that no one in our group was related to these occurrences. As documented, prior to release of AG Jennings statement, (Dover Police) Chief Thomas Johnson Jr. had openly addressed his confidence that Disrupt to Focus had no involvement with the attempt to decapitate said property.

“This is another example of Delaware officials and the police trying to create a negative narrative of what Disrupt2Focus stands for.”
The AG’s announcement Wednesday cited a quote from The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

At the top of the news release was another quote from Dr. King:

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love …

“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
Since the incident, AG Jennings said she knew of no arrests or physical harm as peaceful protests have continued statewide.

“Police departments up and down our state — including Dover Police — have taken unprecedented action to increase transparency,” she said.

“Our governor used his executive powers to bring important reforms to Delaware State Police. And the General Assembly is moving reform bills as we speak.”

The AG did note vandalism to the Delaware State Police Law Enforcement Memorial and Delaware Law Enforcement Memorial, both in Dover. Describing the actions as “reprehensible” she vowed to prosecute those responsible.

According to the Associated Press, 20 persons were charged with four separate disorderly conduct offenses involving refusing to disperse, obstructing vehicular traffic, obstructing pedestrian traffic and “fighting or violent tumultuous or threatening behavior.”

Four individuals were also charged with resisting arrest, and three with hindering prosecution.

One of those taken into custody was Dover Post reporter Andre Lamar, who live-streamed the incident on Facebook and questioned why officers were arresting people; he repeatedly yelled, “I’m with the press!” as officers took him into custody, the AP reported.

AG Jennings’ office said Mr. Lamar had been with the protesters for several protests “sometimes in his personal capacity, other times as a reporter.”

Dover Police said drone footage shows that Mr. Lamar did not put on his press credential lanyard until after police started making arrests, and that an officer rushed him after seeing Mr. Lamar rummaging through his backpack, not knowing that he was a journalist or what was in the backpack, the AP reported.

Officials with the Gannett Co., which owns the Dover Post, had no immediate comment regarding AG Jennings’ statement.

DOJ review, findings

The DOJ detailed findings in its review including:

• The two weeks of protests were mostly peaceful displays of civil disobedience. Law enforcement had fielded numerous 911 calls over several days from residents concerned about particular protest tactics (for example, being surrounded in a parking lot with children in the car). Dover Police and the protesters had met on multiple occasions.

• On June 9, approximately 50 protesters were permitted to walk on U.S. 13 and in the median. The protesters marched in the northbound and southbound lanes for about 25 minutes, with police officers escorting some of the protesters. Traffic was blocked for the most part during this time, as an act of civil disobedience, to commemorate the time George Floyd was pinned to the ground with an officer’s knee on his neck as he lay dying.

• In the hour or so before the arrests, the only tense moments between police and protesters were when police were attempting to allow some cars on U.S. 13 to move around the protesters. Otherwise, the protest to that point was similar to peaceful demonstrations that we’ve seen all over our state.

• No protesters were arrested for protesting in the roadway. That is consistent with DOJ’s advice to the agencies: that no one should be arrested for civil disobedience, and police should step in only when public safety is endangered.

• While protesters were proceeding down U.S. 13, a Dover officer entered his patrol vehicle with the intent of closing down a nearby intersection so that the protesters could continue on the highway.

One of the protesters stood in front of the patrol car and refused to allow him to proceed (DOJ said it is not aware of any video of this particular interaction, so the facts come from interviews and police reports). When the officer exited his vehicle and began talking with the protester, a second protester approached him and, according to police witnesses, “began to use profanity towards [him]” prompting an order for both protesters to move so that the officer could move his vehicle.

• After they would not move, officers began to place the second protester under arrest. At this point, according to police, several protesters “began running in our direction. Protesters approached officers and [were] attempting to prevent the arrest” of other protesters.

The police report continues, “Due to the overwhelming possibility of injury and violence to everyone,” the officer used his radio to call a 10-40 (officer in trouble). Police officers are trained, when they hear another officer call a “10-40” on the radio, to respond immediately to the scene and render assistance to the officer in trouble. At that point, officers and protesters were rushing to the area of the original arrest, and several protesters were arrested.

The latter portion of these events, showing protesters running toward the officers, is shown on video.

• After the 10-40 call, officers began detaining protesters in the immediate vicinity, attempting to keep others away, and moved several across U.S. 13 into the median.

• Officers also arrested Mr. Lamar, who had been with the protesters for several protests (sometimes in his personal capacity, other times as a reporter, the DOJ said). The AG said upon learning that a person with press credentials was arrested, a request was made to Delaware State Police to release him immediately.