Jury selected in Dover officer’s trial

DOVER — The judge didn’t dismiss an assault charge late Monday afternoon, and the defendant opted not to plead guilty to a lesser offense. So the trial against Dover Police Department officer Cpl. Thomas Webster IV begins this morning in Kent County Superior Court.

Cpl. Webster, suspended without pay, is charged with felony second-degree assault after being seen on police dashcam video kicking suspect Lateef Dickerson during an August 2013 apprehension, breaking his jaw and rendering him unconscious.

Dover Police Cpl. Thomas Webster IV enters Kent County Superior Court Monday. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Dover Police Cpl. Thomas Webster IV enters Kent County Superior Court Monday. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Standing before presiding Judge Ferris Wharton at the end of several hours of proceedings, Cpl. Webster said he understood the potential ramifications of not pleading to an offered misdemeanor third-degree assault, which sentencing guidelines indicate probation is warranted and a fine up to $2,300.

With the offered plea, the Delaware Attorney General’s office also required that Cpl. Webster surrender all certifications and never serve as a police officer again.

Instead, Cpl. Webster chose to continue forward with a jury trial, which, if convicted, could bring him up to eight years in prison and civil rights penalties including no ability to vote, hold public office and possess a deadly weapon, along with ending his career as a police officer.

A second-degree assault conviction has a recommended sentencing of zero to two years of prison time.

The offer was made within the past couple weeks, his lawyer Jim Liguori said, and Cpl. Webster spent roughly a week contemplating it with his wife before coming to a decision.

“Yes, your honor,” Cpl. Webster said to Judge Wharton. “It is my decision to reject the plea.”

After a roughly six-hour process, a 12-member jury was selected, along with four alternates. Nine females were seated, and no black males.

Just prior to their dismissal for the day, Judge Wharton instructed jurors not to read, listen or discuss anything about the case, to not conduct any independent research, Facebook or Internet communications.

Proceedings are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. today.

While Mr. Dickerson’s whereabouts could not be confirmed, the Attorney General’s office said dashcam video and other evidence were available to make the case.

The state alleged Cpl. Webster misnumbering his patrol car in a post-incident report indicated a consciousness of guilt, along with acknowledging that his own dashcam video did not record and minimizing Mr. Dickerson’s injuries to hospital personnel.

Mr. Liguori has maintained Cpl. Webster executed a proper use of force involving Mr. Dickerson, and the prosecution was based on a national climate regarding incidents involving police officers, “machinations of the state” along with the arrival of new Attorney General Matt Denn in January.

A grand jury chose not to indict Cpl. Webster in 2014, but the Attorney General’s office presented its case a second time in May 2015 when gaining an indictment. Mr. Liguori also pointed to the United States Attorney General’s Office declining to pursue a civil rights violation case against his client.

Watching the proceedings was Dover city Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., who said he was at the courthouse at 8:30 a.m. and planned to monitor the trial as much as possible.

“I want to make sure that justice is served and that the process has not been compromised for my constituents in the Fourth District and the city as a whole. I’m hear to watch the justice system at work and the outcome as their representative.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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