Deliberations continue Monday in Webster trial

DOVER — After deliberating more than four hours Friday, a jury did not reach a verdict regarding a Dover Police Department officer accused of assaulting a suspect during a 2013 apprehension.

Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV, 42, is charged with felony second-degree assault, though the 12-member jury could find him guilty on misdemeanor third-degree assault instead.

Cpl. Webster, suspended without pay since being indicted in May 2015, is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

The charge came after Lateef Dickerson, 29 at the time, suffered a broken jaw and was knocked unconscious during a confrontation with two police officers at approximately 11 p.m. Aug. 24, 2013, in the area of Maple Parkway and U.S. 13.

After receiving instructions from Judge Ferris Wharton at 11:40 a.m., the 12-member jury of nine women and three men exited the courtroom to begin deliberations.

The jury, tasked with the responsibility of determining the highly publicized trial, was dismissed as 4:30 p.m. neared, and will report back to the Kent County Courthouse at 9 a.m. Monday.

Before jury selection earlier this week, Cpl. Webster declined a plea to third-degree assault offer from the Attorney

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Cpl. Thomas Webster IV walks into the Kent County Courthouse on Friday. The jury in his trial on assault-related charges began deliberations after the state and defense completed their final summations. (Delaware State News photo/Dave Chambers)

General’s office. Part of the plea offer also included that he surrender all law enforcement certifications and agree to never serve as a police officer again.

The ACLU of Delaware filed a lawsuit against the city of Dover and Cpl. Webster IV on Sept. 29, 2014, and officials this week described the matter as resolved before declining further comment.

Mr. Dickerson has not attended the trial that began Tuesday. The Department of Justice said Thursday he is wanted by multiple law-enforcement jurisdictions on separate felony charges, and his whereabouts are unknown.

After the continuation until Monday, NAACP Central Delaware President La Mar Gunn said there were possible plans for some sort of demonstration near the courthouse on Monday.

During his 40-minute closing in Kent County Superior Court before an audience of 50 onlookers seated in the courtroom, defense lawyer Jim Liguori touched on the high intensity situation involved and the danger officers faced when making split-second decisions on actions to take during an apprehension.

Mr. Liguori maintained that Cpl. Webster’s kick was necessary, but he aimed for the upper torso and mistakenly hit Mr. Dickerson’s jaw instead. He pointed to two experts called earlier — one by the prosecution the other for the defense — who testified the act was criminal if it was intentional, and maintained his client did not purposely aim for Mr. Dickerson’s head.

Deputy Attorney General Danielle Brennan, speaking for the state, opined that serious injury requiring surgery to treat had occurred. She added that at the very least Cpl. Webster’s actions were reckless.

Ms. Brennan also questioned why Cpl. Webster had not written that he did not intentionally aim for the head in any of his use-of-force and criminal reports after the incident. He only noted where the kick made contact. Only as the trial neared, Ms. Brennan said, did Cpl. Webster’s claim about aiming for the torso and not the head emerge.

During his presentation, Mr. Liguori said Cpl. Webster told his shift supervisor of the blow while writing the use-of-force report sometime between 5 and 7 a.m. The report was vetted multiple times as it moved up the Dover Police Department’s chain of command, his lawyer said. He also noted that a deputy chief reviewed dashcam video from the officer’s patrol vehicle and determined it had no evidentiary value.

The state questioned why Cpl. Webster apparently made only a cursory search of Mr. Dickerson after he was kicked onto the ground face down, handcuffed and in an altered state of consciousness when there had been great concern by all officers involved the fleeing man might be in possession of a firearm.

The defense reasoned that with the quick search completed and Mr. Dickerson face down and handcuffed, Cpl. Webster took time to turn his body while still staying near the defendant, and took a gasp of relief that the threat level had dropped significantly.

Also, Mr. Liguori said, Cpl. Webster did not administer another blow after the one that dropped Mr. Dickerson to the ground. That action dropped the officer’s intensity level by taking control of the suspect after several other verbal commands and a kick to the back of the leg had been unsuccessful in gaining Mr. Dickerson’s compliance.

Mr. Dickerson’s displaced and dislodged jaw that was fractured and broken rose to the legal standard of serious bodily injury with disfigurement and continuing consequences, Ms. Brennan maintained.

Mr. Liguori said the injury suffered was collateral damage from the missed kick to the torso, which was reasonable and not excessive based on Cpl. Webster’s intended target area.

With his close proximity and physical position to Mr. Dickerson’s torso, Ms. Brennan wondered if it was possible to miss the intended target and instead kick the smaller head.

Ms. Brennan delivered her summation in just over 30 minutes, followed by a quick rebuttal to the defense presentation to the jury.

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