Report signed by Dover chief disputed by Webster lawyer

DOVER — The city of Dover has retained legal counsel in response to an accusation that its police chief added a sentence to a use-of-force report after it had been officially filed in the assault case of former Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV, officials said Tuesday.

In a letter to the Department of Justice on May 24, Cpl. Webster’s lawyer Jim Liguori alleged Chief Paul Bernat added to the document “after I received the document from (now Deputy Chief Marvin) Mailey, a self-serving sentence to the original exhibit.

“I’m convinced that Paul Bernat did this because, as I’ve said before, he and others wanted to pursue criminal charges against Tom Webster before a new Attorney General …”

Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat

Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat

When contacted Wednesday, Chief Bernat declined comment on the letter’s contents and referred questions to attorney Glenn Mandalas.

Mayor Robin Christiansen confirmed the city “hired legal counsel” in response to the letter, but declined further comment due to the ongoing “personnel matter and legal issue.”

In the letter to the DOJ, Mr. Liguori cited Chief Bernat’s adding the sentence “Pending review of in car video” to an original report on Aug. 26, 2013, stating that no disciplinary action should be taken against Cpl.Webster. Chief Bernat, then deputy chief, signed the report.

Cpl. Webster was charged with assault after he administered a jaw-breaking kick to Lateef Dickerson as the suspect was apprehended on Aug. 24, 2013. A jury found Cpl. Webster not guilty in Kent County Superior Court on Dec. 8, 2015.

The officer reached a settlement with the city afterward and left the Dover police force.

In-car video from an officer’s dashcam at the scene was highly scrutinized by both prosecution and defense during the trial.

The letter from Mr. Liguori was sent to Deputy Attorney General Dennis Kelleher of the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust.

On Tuesday, DOJ spokesman Carl Kanefsky confirmed receipt of the letter and said the office “will review it. Beyond that, the office does not discuss or disclose details of investigations.”

The city responds

In a letter responding to the allegations sent to Mr. Kelleher, Mr. Mandalas wrote “Chief Bernat categorically denies the unfounded accusations contained in Mr. Liguori’s letter.”

Mr. Mandalas acknowledged two versions of the report existed and said “Chief Bernat has never attempted to hide this fact, there is not one piece of evidence that would suggest otherwise.”

Both accounts of the use of force report were provided to the DOJ during the trial, Mr. Mandalas said, and “both versions were produced in discovery to Lateef Dickerson’s attorneys in the civil litigation matter arising from the incident …”

Mr. Mandalas pointed to Chief Bernat’s testimony under oath during the civil case proceedings and contended “If Chief Bernat had been motivated by other than proper purposes, as Mr. Liguori suggests, one would expect that he would have endeavored to conceal the pre-video version of the memorandum.”

Describing Mr. Liguori’s accusations as “unfounded, misleading, and incorrect” Mr. Mandalas said Chief Bernat agreed with the report’s findings, but “wished to review any video of the incident.”

No video could immediately be found, however, during the Internal Affairs investigation, and Chief Bernat signed the report, Mr. Mandalas said.

The video was located several weeks later, according to Mr. Mandalas, and Chief Bernat added the phrase “pending review of in car video” because of its value as evidence.

“The later addition was consistent with Chief Bernat’s intention upon first reviewing the Internal Affairs report,” Mr. Mandalas maintained.

The video discovered

Chief Bernat’s actions were reasonable, Mr. Mandalas said, and duty bound to review the discovered video.

“Nonetheless, as all the evidence amply demonstrates, Chief Bernat preserved the prior record by retaining the original version of the signed

06dsn Jim Liguori by .

Jim Liguori

memorandum, produced it every time he was asked to do so, and testified as to the existence of both memoranda,” Mr. Mandalas wrote.

During negotiations regarding Mr. Webster’s separation from Dover PD, according to Mr. Mandalas, Mr. Liguori had extensive face to face and written contact with Chief Bernat and himself.

“Had Mr. Liguori simply brought this matter to the attention of Chief Bernat and his legal counsel at an appropriate time, I feel confident that the Chief’s explanation, supported by sworn testimony in the civil litigation, and provided in this correspondence, would have sufficiently dissuaded Mr. Liguori from burdening you and the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust with this unfounded complaint,” Mr. Mandalas said.

Mr. Liguori said he did not air concerns earlier because “whatever I did might have been construed as some tactic used to my clients advantage.:

The city’s letter concluded by saying Chief Bernat would be fully cooperative with the DOJ in “any investigation that your office should wish to undertake.”

The report arrives

Mr. Liguori said he received the original use of report on Aug. 26, 2013; Dover PD took the alleged assault matter to the DOJ and Attorney General Beau Biden, and a grand jury chose not to indict in March 2014. Former Chief Jim Hosfelt retired on March 5, 2014.

After the Webster issue was further examined, the DOJ under Attorney Matt Denn brought the case again the grand jury, which returned an indictment on May 4, 2015. Chief Bernat had replaced Mr. Hosfelt at that point.

Mr. Liguori said he received the original use of force report with the addition from the DOJ on June 15, 2015 during a discovery period for Mr. Webster’s case.

“I believe Paul Bernat’s addition to an official document may be actionable,” Mr. Liguori wrote in allegations to the DOJ.

“At best it’s unprofessional, disingenuous and sneaky. At worst, it’s a crime.”

Mr. Liguori maintained that Chief Bernat “did not want those with whom he spoke (Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office) to conclude that he had resolved the issue at hand during the original Internal Affairs without having viewed the in car video from the police vehicle of Chris Hermance and thereafter engaged in the tampering with the official document …”

Also, Mr. Liguori described Chief Bernat as surrounded by a “small coterie of sycophants” on the police force who believed Mr. Webster’s conduct was actionable even “after initially being rebuked by a grand jury and U.S. attorney.”

Mr. Liguori said the document in question was not introduced at trial and “We won on the merits of our defense.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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