Dover police probed record shootings total in 2020

Pictured is a firearm and ammunition seized last week during a late night apprehension in Dover. The firearm was found to be reported stolen in October 2020. Submitted photo/Dover Police Department

DOVER — A record-setting year wasn’t limited to Dover’s eight fatal shootings in 2020.

City police said they investigated an all-time high 60 shooting incidents overall involving death, injury or targeted gunfire during the same 12-month span.

That’s not including numerous times when vehicles or residences were damaged by bullets, or police receiving multiple shots fired calls, authorities said.

The year 2021 started out with more of the same — a female was wounded when shot inside a hotel room on Jan. 3, followed by a man in a residence the next day in an unrelated case.

Two of the eight fatal shootings in 2020 have brought arrests, and police said two other cases are close to taking in suspects still on the loose.

That still leaves half the homicide investigations in lesser states of progress, though not for a lack of effort, police said.

The clearance rate for the 60 incidents last year stands at 29%, police said.

Detectives said they need more assistance from those who know shooting details the most – victims and witnesses.

“The lack of cooperation from potential witnesses makes it difficult,” Dover police Sgt. Kevin Streadwick said last week.

Kevin Streadwick

The officer in charge of detectives in the department’s Criminal Investigations Unit, Sgt. Streadwick has found that “We have the best detectives. They’re put there for a reason, so they’re following every lead they can, talking every lead they can, (but) it’s just a matter of cooperation.

“Everybody has that philosophy of the ‘snitch code.’ Nobody wants to be a snitch, regardless. We get tips all the time. We’re trying to (follow up) but people (often) don’t respond.”

Some shooting victims have been mostly uncooperative as well, police said. One injured person gave a lot of “I don’t know, I don’t remember” answers when questioned by detectives at an area hospital.

“He was clearly shot. We know where he was shot and then he gives us the ‘Well, I don’t know where I live,’” Sgt. Streadwick recalled.

According to police, they had contacted the man at his home a couple weeks earlier and knew him by name.

In a nutshell, the man’s response was “You’re the detective, you figure it out,” Sgt. Streadwick said.

Then there was the story relayed from a detective to Sgt. Mark Hoffman. As the officer approached a shooting victim in the hospital, he was greeted with “Take your pretty detective (expletive) right out of here,” according to police.

The language isn’t the bothersome part of the exchange, Sgt. Hoffman said.

“You could care less about those words but you want to solve that case because you know what’s going to happen whether it’s the next day or within the next year,” he said. “There’s going to be another shooting that’s probably connected somehow whether you discover that or not.”

Drugs, gangs factor

A recurring theme in shooting cases is some sort of connection to illegal drug or gang activity, some times both, said Lt. Aaron Dickinson, who oversees the police department’s CIU, drug and street crimes units.

Aaron Dickinson

“Whether somebody is in a gang or (involved) in drugs, there can be violence,” he said. “Generally if somebody is involved in a gang, they’re almost always involved in drugs. That’s intertwined big time.

“Several of the shootings are gang related and drug related. It’s seriously intertwined. I can’t stress that enough.”

Violence begets violence in the gang culture and a problem that prompts an action continues with a retaliation, Dover police chief Thomas Johnson Jr. said Friday. He described the spike in fatal shootings as a “gang-related anomaly.”

“Sometimes gangs fight with other gangs, sometimes gangs have internal conflicts both with leadership and within their business model and of course every time there’s a conflict and someone takes a violent action to resolve it. It’s not 100% guaranteed but there’s a very high probability there’s going to be some sort of retaliation event,” he said.

By the chief’s estimation, “We probably have dozens of identified groups and gangs, maybe a half-dozen player groups that have control of the action that’s going on, but it is organized,” he said.

Thomas Johnson Jr.

Chief Johnson acknowledges the sometimes lack of cooperation by victims and witnesses and said “some of that is a relationship issue that we’re still trying to work out through community policing. But some of that lack of cooperation is in the self-interest of the individual whose behavior is now exposed because of a violent event that drew the attention of public safety.”

Dover’s proximity to I-95 and several major metropolitan areas makes it an easy access point for the drug trade, Chief Johnson said, and allowing local gangs to easier “feed the need in society.”

A spike in drug trafficking leads to an increase in drug robberies “which don’t often get reported because both the victim and perpetrator commit a crime and the only times we find out about it is when the drug robbery escalates into a stabbing, shooting or some other kind of violent event that requires hospitalization or the injured just can’t make it home.”

With vague case details available.=, an individual could “remain free to do it again,” Chief Johnson said.

Fatal incidents

According to police reports, fatal shooting incidents in 2020 included:

• On Dec. 25 at approximately 2:13 a.m., a 29-year-old Dover male was fatally shot in the area of Towne Point Apartments. He was transported via private vehicle to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, where he succumbed to his injuries.

• On Sept. 27, a 20-year-old Delaware State University student was fatally shot during an sanctioned gathering of approximately 300 to 500 people at Schutte Park. A 22-year-old man was shot as well and treated at the hospital.

• On July 8, a 27-year-old woman died following a gunshot wound to the head at around 12:02 a.m. in the area of U.S. 13 and Loockerman Street. The injured woman was found in a vehicle and was pronounced deceased after transport to the hospital. Two persons were seen exiting the vehicle and fleeing on foot.

• On July 6, a 32-year-old Dover-area man was found shot to death in a vacant alley in the 100 block of South New Street. Police were called to the scene at approximately 2:48 a.m. for a shots-fired report and found the man had been struck by gunfire multiple times. Police said a person of interest in the investigation was apprehended out of state on July 24.

• On June 1, two males ages 18 and 15 were charged with first-degree murder after a 31-year-old man was found deceased in a vehicle around 6:54 p.m. in the 300 block of Kesselring Avenue.

• On Feb. 10, a 34-year-old Dover female died from a gunshot wound to the upper body. Four other persons were shot during an incident at approximately 5:54 a.m. in the 200 block of West Reed Street. The other victims suffered non-life threatening injuries.

• On Jan. 24, a 19-year-old Dover man was shot multiple times and pronounced dead at the scene at Country Club Apartments off of Forrest Avenue. Police were called to the area for a shots-fired report at approximately 2:55 a.m.

• On Jan. 6, a 15-year-old Milford male was shot multiple times and managed to call 911 himself before dying. Police located the youth in an alley at the rear of Paul Street, near Davis Circle at approximately 9:49 p.m. The youth was transported to Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, where he succumbed to his injuries.

Additionally, Delaware State Police investigated a fatal shooting incident at approximately 7:03 p.m. on Oct. 2 in the Rodney Village neighborhood that left a 21-year-old Dover male dead. A 21-year-old Maryland was identified as a person of interest in the case and was apprehended in Maryland on Nov. 6.