Dover police officer testifies he didn’t intend to kick man in head

DOVER — Cpl. Thomas Webster IV tried to kick Lateef Dickerson’s torso but missed and struck his jaw instead during a 2013 apprehension, the Dover Police Department officer testified Thursday.

In the third day of a criminal trial against him, Cpl. Webster, 42, recounted from the witness stand his memories of the incident on Aug. 24, 2013 that eventually led to a second-degree felony assault charge against him. Mr. Dickerson was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw as a result of the kick.

While Cpl. Webster, suspended without pay since indictment in May 2015, agreed under cross examination that while an intentional kick to the head in the situation in question was not warranted, he did not intend to do so.

The defense rested its case just after 3 p.m. and Judge Ferris Wharton instructed the jury — nine women and three men — to return today at 9 a.m. for closing arguments and instructions from the court before deliberating on a verdict.

The prosecution questioned Cpl. Webster on why he didn’t include his intention when writing a use-of-force report a few hours after responding to the area of a reported large, late-night fight at a gas station, despite being instructed by the sergeant overseeing his platoon working a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift afterward to write a detailed documentation of the incident due to the injury involved as soon as possible.

Cpl. Webster then cited his training to write what he considered facts of the case, and no police officer can include all details in a report. Everything he included in the document was accurate, he testified.

After Mr. Dickerson’s girlfriend filed a complaint with Dover PD on Oct. 9, 2013 regarding the incident, Cpl. Webster supplied a requested supplemental report soon afterward greatly resembling the use-of-force report as investigation into a potential criminal matter began.

In the use-of-force report, Cpl. Webster wrote that he struck Mr. Dickerson with a single blow to the head, stunning him. The documentation was received by his Dover PD platoon leader, unit commander and deputy chief, he testified.

Mr. Dickerson, who was 29 at the time of the incident, has not attended any of the proceedings in Kent County Superior Court. On Thursday, the Delaware Department of Justice said he was wanted by multiple jurisdictions regarding several unrelated felony charges and his whereabouts were unknown.

The trial continued to draw high interest, with seemingly every seat in the courtroom filled with up to 40 or more spectators.

Attorney Jim Liguori is representing Cpl. Webster, with Deputy Attorneys General Mark Denney and Danielle Brennan prosecuting for the state.

The incident unfolds

After driving past suspect Mr. Dickerson at the corner of U.S. 13 and Maple Parkway at approximately 11 p.m., Cpl. Webster testified that the suspect ignored several verbal commands to drop to the ground, and a kick to the back of his knee was unsuccessful in bring him down.

The tension was heightened by police radio transmissions that a fleeing suspect wearing a yellow hat and yellow pants was in possession of a firearm, and that several combatants in a large fight at a then-Hess station were fleeing in multiple directions, along with a white vehicle with temporary tags. Cpl. Webster testified that Mr. Dickerson fit clothing and physical elements of the description of a fleeing person that officers received.

At the same time, Cpl. Webster said, Mr. Dickerson twice moved his hands toward his waistband, causing further alarm about a possible weapon emerging.

On the stand, Cpl. Webster said his perception was that Mr. Dickerson was armed and that did not change throughout the incident.

The prosecution questioned why Cpl. Webster did not conduct a thorough search for a weapon while Mr. Dickerson was handcuffed and on the ground, especially with a possible firearm involved, and the officer said he did a quick cursory search before scanning the area around him to look for possible assailants referenced in a radio dispatch in what was not deemed a secured situation.

Part of the sequence was recorded on a patrol car dashcam video by Lt. Christopher Hermance, who teamed with Cpl. Webster to take Mr. Dickerson into custody. Cpl. Webster said he was unaware of the video when writing his report, and did not check his own vehicle’s footage, which he described as not common practice among officers in that situation.

Cpl. Webster acknowledged that he did not patrol in the vehicle he originally logged recorded on a duty list, taking the keys to another car when finding his computer not working in the first one. He reported the change to a desk officer, he said.

Dover PD Master Cpl. David Gist, the assistant supervisor on the shift, said he went to the scene and relieved Cpl. Webster from watching Mr. Dickerson while he went to get a small first aid kit. Lt. Webster said he applied gauze around Mr. Dickerson’s head and lip while using an antiseptic wipe.

At the hospital

After transporting Mr. Dickerson to a hospital when he reported pain, Cpl. Webster said the pair spent four hours at the facility while treatment was provided. Cpl. Webster described Mr. Dickerson as calm and civil at that point and compliant to the point of talking about “all sorts of things, including what was he thinking.”

According to Cpl. Webster, Mr. Dickerson told him he was trying to decide whether to run or fight during the incident, and had been involved in “quite a few scrapes.”

Cpl. Webster later took Mr. Dickerson to Dover PD for processing on a resisting arrest charge, he testified.

On the witness stand when called by the defense, Delaware State Police Cpl. Rick Torres — who trained Cpl. Webster at the police academy more than 10 years ago — said the officer’s actions followed his training. The dashcam video from the August 2013 incident could be used in training on how to handle a felony style stop where a threat of apparent serious bodily harm or death is apparent, Cpl. Torres testified.

Cpl. Torres is the lead defense tactics instructor at the Delaware State Police Academy that trains new police recruits for duty, and said that based on several factors present, training indicated that the kick was acceptable.

Questioned by the prosecution, Cpl. Torres confirmed that he is friends with Cpl. Webster “though we don’t hang out,” their families were acquainted and both graduated from Lake Forest High. Cpl. Torres said he knew a great many law enforcement officers, with Delaware being the small state that it is.

When called by the defense as an expert witness on use of force, former FBI agent Dr. Philip Hayden testified that he watched the video and spoke with Cpl. Webster and believed the kick would have been an assault if intentional. Dr. Hayden said an attempted snap kick to the head would have been foolish because it a small target compared to the torso.



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