Grassroots group calls for police oversight

A widely circulated video shows a Delaware State Police trooper pointing a firearm at a motorist during a Feb. 14 traffic stop in the Lincoln area. (Facebook photo)

DOVER — Following two recent videotaped arrests in Sussex and New Castle counties, a newly formed organization aims to spotlight allegations of improper abuse by police statewide.

Delaware for Police Oversight released a statement Wednesday accusing officers of “using excessive and unwarranted levels of force at a time when their lives were not in danger.”

A DPO Facebook page had 114 followers as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Other contacts were a email address. DEL4PO on Twitter and @DEL4PO on Instagram.

DPO’s summed up its emphasis and concerns in the statement:

“Too many people throughout our great state have been victimized at the hand of police officers, and we must take this opportunity to set a strong precedent going forward.

“It should be stated in no uncertain terms that law enforcement officials who choose to abuse their authority will face swift and definitive punishment.”

DPO first detailed a Delaware State Police trooper’s Thursday, Feb. 14 gunpoint arrest of a reportedly speeding motorist in the Lincoln area at approximately 9:10 a.m.

The next day, according to DPO, two New Castle County police officers allegedly pinned a 16-year-old male to the ground and punched him the face multiple times, resulting in a concussion. The teen was then held in jail for the entire weekend, the group claimed.

According to New Castle Police Department spokesman Master Cpl. Michel Eckerd Thursday, “We don’t comment on the actions of other police agencies and you can rest assured that we conduct thorough investigations on all uses of force by our officers. When appropriate, the Chief will offer a comment.”

After chatroom discussion among state activists shortly after the incidents, member Megan Hart said the DPO was formed and social media accounts created. She said the group had approximately active 20 members and rising.

“The recent local incidents kind of mirrored what was happening nationally,” she said. “This was a group advocacy groups that wasn’t part of a specific coalition currently addressing any issue.

“We had some time to put more effort into the efforts that recently came about and that’s why the organization was formed.”

Time to talk

Members attended a previously scheduled community forum with Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings Wednesday night at Seaford City Hall and Ms. Hart said there were positive back and forth conversations. Ms. Hart said a handful of police officers attended, with some speaking before the audience, along with elected state officials.

“We want to make it clear that we’re not anti-police but it’s about safety of community members and police through better practices and an emphasis on de-escalation during situations where a citizen is unarmed, ” Ms. Hart said.

According to DSP spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz, authorities are aware motorist/Lincoln resident Mack Buckley, 40, recorded his arrest “that was posted to social media of a traffic stop involving a motorist and a state trooper …”

Sgt. Bratz said DSP “initiated an internal investigation as soon as we became aware of the incident as per divisional policy.

“This review is part of an internal process to ensure that we are in compliance with divisional policy and that we are also performing our duties at the level of professionalism that is expected by the citizens that we serve.”

The involved trooper was on regular duty as of Thursday.

Contacted shortly after the traffic stop video was widely shared on social media, Mr. Buckley declined comment but said he and his lawyer would be speaking publicly at some point. An attempt for further comment Thursday was not immediately successful.

DPO described itself as “a coalition of activists who understand the need for police accountability …”

Calls for action

The group called on the Delaware Attorney General’s office to:

•Condemn the trooper’s actions “and acknowledge the officer’s role in escalating the situation.”

•Drop resisting arrest charges against the defendants and two offensive touching of law enforcement officers counts by the teen.

•Fire the trooper and officers “for irresponsible handling of a service weapon and excessive use of force on a teenager, respectively.”

•Investigate, prosecute and punish the NCC officers for the alleged assault.

•Establish an independent Civilian Review Board to investigate police misconduct complaints statewide.

•Publish police practices and manuals online “like other cities and states do.”

Through a spokesman Thursday, AG Jennings released a statement:

“While it is inappropriate to comment on the specifics of any individual pending investigation, I am confident in the work that the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust has done since it was created in 2015 to focus on cases involving law enforcement officers and agencies.

“I also have great respect for any advocates and activists who work to create change in our community and to ensure that a wide range of views and experiences are represented in public debate.”

Following the NCC incident, the ACLU of Delaware and Delaware Campaign for Justice lauded the AG for investigating the incident with the teen. The ACLU lobbied for an officer to be suspended pending completion of an investigation.

“ … it is difficult to imagine circumstances that justify multiple officers pinning down a 16-year-old boy and punching him repeatedly in the face,” according to the ACLU.

The ACLU also saluted the teen’s friend for recording the incident “despite attempts by officers to get him to leave the scene. Recording the police is a First Amendment right.”

DSP said a trooper patrolling the area of Fleatown and Cubbage Pond roads in a fully marked vehicle in Lincoln first saw a silver Mazda vehicle “pass in the opposite direction eastbound on Fleatown Road at a high rate of speed.”

A stop was made and a trooper was seen in video upholstering his firearm and pointing it at Mr. Buckley with orders to exit the car. The driver was arrested on charges of resisting arrest, speeding, no insurance and no registration. Following apprehension, police said, the motorist was taken to Troop 7 without further incident. An arraignment before Justice of the Peace Court followed and the driver was released on unsecured bond.

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