Civil lawsuit in Webster case ‘resolved,’ but no one’s talking

DOVER — While a jury considers the merits of a felony assault charge against a city police officer, a separate civil lawsuit in the matter has been resolved — in some way.

Officials for the city of Dover — which is a co-defendant in the civil suit with police Cpl. Thomas Webster IV — said last week no details or terms of an agreement are publicly available.

But, they said any information that can be released will be made available.

But nothing has yet been released to the public.

The lawsuit had been filed by the ACLU of Delaware on behalf of plaintiff Lateef Dickerson, the suspect Cpl. Webster

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Thomas Webster IV

kicked in the face during an August 2013 apprehension and for which he is now on trial for assault.

On Friday, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen promised as much eventual disclosure as possible.

“(While) I believe in total and honest transparency we are bound by certain protocols that are in place,” he said.

He added “at this point in time we are not permitted to discuss any terms or details regarding any current litigation.”

On Wednesday, ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae said the civil suit it filed on behalf of Mr. Dickerson has been “resolved.” Ms. MacRae declined further comment.

Attorney Daniel Griffith, who represents the City of Dover’s interests in the matter, said, “The lawsuit has been resolved but I am not authorized to comment further.”

Attempts to reach lawyer Kevin J. Connors, representing co-defendant Cpl. Webster, 42, on the civil matter, were not successful.

No information was made available on when a reported resolution was reached, in principle, verbally and/or officially.

Also left currently unanswered and pending future disclosure constraints was whether any paperwork has been signed, the nature of any terms, any potential financial ramifications to city taxpayers, extent of insurance coverage, cost to the city from responding to the lawsuit so far, any possible affect on Dover PD, and who from Dover had input in any way in reaching a conclusion to the litigation.

The lawsuit against the City of Dover and Cpl. Webster, who was suspended without pay after indictment on a second-degree assault charge in May 2015, was filed by the ACLU of Delaware in United States District Court for the District of Delaware on Sept. 29, 2014.

The action stemmed from an initial interaction between Cpl. Webster and Mr. Dickerson, then 29, during an apprehension at approximately 11 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2013. The police officer was seen kicking suspect Mr. Dickerson during an apprehension after Dover PD responded to a large fight, reports of a firearm-carrying suspect, and multiple suspects fleeing from an assault at the then-Hess Gas Station on U.S. 13.

Lateef Dickerson

Lateef Dickerson

Mr. Dickerson, who police said fled from the initial scene, was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw during the gunpoint confrontation when Cpl. Webster and Master Cpl. Christopher Hermance took the suspect into custody near southbound U.S. 13 and Maple Parkway.

A dashcam video on Cpl. Hermance’s patrol vehicle captured part of the sequence, which was extensively examined and analyzed in frame by frame fashion by prosecution and defense this week at the Kent County Courthouse.

Then-Dover PD Chief Jim Hosfelt testified at the criminal trial this week that he contacted the Delaware Department of Justice soon after watching the video with command staff members in late October 2013, just after Mr. Dickerson’s girlfriend lodged a complaint with city police.

Mr. Hosfelt, who retired from Dover PD and is now a city councilman, declined comment on the civil matter on Friday.

Attempts to get further information from city officials on the process and governmental machinations, not the details, that achieved an agreement were unsuccessful this week.

E-mail requests to city council members on Friday afternoon for any possible information or insight were not immediately successful.

Mayor Christiansen referred questions on the civil matter status to city solicitor attorney Nick Rodriguez earlier in the week, who said, “Our insurance carriers have their own attorneys.

“We do not handle any claims such as this unless we have no coverage. The attorneys do not communicate with me or (attorney) Bill Pepper. We understand that a settlement has been reached but that is all that he and I know.”

The criminal trial

The criminal trial against Cpl. Webster, presumed innocent unless proven guilty, continues Monday at 9 a.m. in Kent County Superior Court in Dover.

The officer testified that his kick toward Mr. Dickerson was intended for the torso and mistakenly connected with his jaw instead.

Judge Ferris Wharton dismissed the 12-member jury — nine women, three men — as 4:30 p.m. approached on Friday.

Besides a not guilty finding, the jury also has the option of a lesser included misdemeanor third-degree assault

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Jim Liguori

charge to consider. A unanimous verdict is needed acquit or convict, and failure to do so brings a hung jury mistrial.

Before the trial began on Tuesday, Cpl. Webster declined to accept the state’s offer of pleading guilty to third-degree assault, surrendering any law enforcement certifications and agreeing to never serve as a police officer again.

Deliberations began at approximately 11:40 a.m. Friday after defense attorney Jim Liguori and Deputy Attorney

General prosecutor Danielle Brennan offered summations in a courtroom with up to 50 or more observers.

After summations were prestented and the jury instructed and sent to deliberate, defense attorney Mr. Liguori, prosecuting DAGs Ms. Brennan and Mark Denney all exchanged handshakes, and Judge Wharton thanked the attorneys for well-presented cases.

The lawyers returned thanks to the judge as the wait for a verdict began.

Mr. Dickerson has not appeared at any court proceedings during the criminal trial. The Delaware Department of Justice said he is currently wanted by multiple law enforcement jurisdictions on various felony charges in unrelated cases.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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