Webster trial testimony

Following are excerpts and paraphrasing of 47 minutes of testimony by Delaware State Police Cpl. Ricardo Torres at the trial of Dover Police Department Cpl. Thomas Webster IV on Dec. 3, 2015.

Direct examination by defense attorney Jim Liguori, representing Cpl. Webster

Q: Obviously, you are employed by the Delaware State Police; is that correct?

A: Yes, I am.

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Q: Did you ever have occasion to instruct at the Delaware State Police Academy?

A: Yes, I do. I’m the lead defensive tactics instructor for the Delaware State Police Academy.

Q: Just to marquee this matter, Corporal, a few days ago we saw your name up on a board in the other courtroom where you were one of the instructors with regard to defensive tactics that were taught to my client, Tom Webster. Is it fair to say that you recall teaching Tom Webster?

A: Yes, I do.

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Cpl. Torres testifies that he was certified in defensive tactics at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. He also cites FBI studies showing that most officers are killed on duty “because they hesitate because they are not sure what to do at any given time. They don’t make a decisive decision.”

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Q: All right. What I’d like you to do since you’ve seen that little snippet (dashcam video of an interaction

Lateef Dickerson

Lateef Dickerson

between Cpl. Webster and Lateef Dickerson), I just want to marquee it by telling you that there was a report that the gentleman on the ground was involved in an assault and was carrying a weapon.

So my question to you is, what type of stop or contact do you believe is being attempted here by these two Dover Police officers?

A: Based on what we train – and what this looks like to me is what you would call either a felony car stop or a felony-style stop.

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Q: And you can tell from that snippet I showed you based on this situation what would be – whether or not the gentleman on the ground was being compliant from what you’ve heard and what you’ve seen there?

A: For a felony stop, no. Compliant would be – for a felony-style stop, how it’s going to end is you’re going to give a person commands, and it’s going to end with a person on the ground facedown. That’s how we train …

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Q: So in this particular situation, we see that Tom Webster is faced with a felony stop with an individual that’s supposed to have a gun, so that limits his options.

I can tell you – if you haven’t seen, I’ll do it again but he – excuse me – Corporal Webster delivers a kick to the back of the defendant’s – or Lateef Dickerson’s leg and then a kick to his head.

So my question to you from the perspective of what you’ve seen here, from the perspective of what I’ve told you about Tom Webster testifying under oath that he believed the guy was noncompliant, that he was reaching down to his hand – to his side approximately two this, that he was scanning the area, et cetera, is there any belief in your training that you’ve given that the second kick was within the scope of your training?

A: Yeah, it could be. Yes. Yes, because if you’re talking about this is a felony car stop and you’re looking at compliance, what I would expect from this person, from a reasonable person, probably from anyone in here, if someone came at me and approached me with a gun, I’m getting on the ground …

It’s not normal for someone to not immediately get on the ground …

It looks like the officers felt the need to move in to contain this person, maybe keep him from fleeing. Usually that’s a sign …

So when someone is making that decision which is hesitation because they are thinking about what they are possibly going to do, then – and your options being limited, it would be feasible to not let go of the gun and then move in do deliver a kick.

Q: What you observed here is that snippet from State’s No. 1, does it appear to you that the actions of Tom Webster resemble that of his training?

A: Yes, I do. And I’m here because I believe in our training at the Delaware State Police Academy. We get the best training down at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Our partners at New Castle County, they have their own academy. They do the same thing …

But I see here that based on what we train for felony stops and what’s attempted for what these guys are trying to do and the way the situation unfolded where someone possibly has a firearm and then they are not responding to commands as far as immediately getting on the ground, I’m telling you, reasonable people, they get on the ground when a firearm is pointed at them. He doesn’t get on the ground …

And so with force options limited, and you move in, a kick to put this person on the ground works.

And the key point for me here, truly why I feel like this was within our training when I see this video, is really at the end for me. You have to have the ability as a police officer to turn the switch and to be able to do — to use force, to use violence upon someone if possible or if needed as a member of the public, and you have to be able to stop and you have to be able to turn it off. And that’s the difference …

So what I see here for what we train is you have to turn it on, you have to make a decision, and then once that decision is made and you have control and you’ve gained control then it’s off and it’s over.

And what I see from these guys is under a circumstance where I can tell you the hair on the back of your neck’s standing up when feel you get a call like that and you show up and you have to make a quick decision, a quick decision is made to gain control, and as soon as they gain control, it was just handcuffs placed on – because you wouldn’t want to handcuff someone without control – handcuffs are placed on, there’s no high-fives, there’s no strikes after the fact by either officer …

That, right there, that’s what we train our officers to do. They have to make decisions to gain control. And once they gain control, it’s over, and that’s what they did. And I feel that’s why they acted within the scope of what we train.

Mr. Liguori: Thank you, sir. No further questions.

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Cross examination by Deputy Attorney General Mark Denney

Q: You believe that’s within the scope of what officer’s are supposed to do?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: You would use this video as a training technique to the people that are in the Delaware State Police Academy?

A: Yes.

Q: Are you aware that two different experts in this trial, one for the State and one for the defense, have both testified based on their expert opinion that kick to Lateef Dickerson’s head was an unjustified, excessive use of force? Are you aware of that?

A: No. No, sir. I wasn’t there.

Q: Now that you know that, would you still show this video as an instructional tool to people in the Delaware State Police Academy?

A: Sir, I don’t know where they were trained. I know where I was trained.

Q: You’re still comfortable with showing this video?

A: Based on my training.

Q: Okay. How about are you aware that Dover Police has actually used this video internally in training?

A: No, sir.

Q: That’s news to you? Okay. You’ve seen this video before today, right?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: About how many times?

A: Maybe two, three.

Q: Okay and you’re here because you were asked to be here?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: You’re friends with Thomas Webster?

A: Yes, sir.

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Thomas Webster IV

Q: Right? You guys are buddies?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: You hang out together?

A: We don’t hang out, but I know Tom, yes.

Q: How do you know Tom?

A: I’ve known Tom since high school. He went to Lake Forest. I went to Lake Forest. I know his wife. I know his dad, mom. I know his spouse’s wife, mom, just like I do most everybody in Delaware. I know most of the police officers that I work with. I know most of their parents. We all went to school together.

Delaware’s a small state. You almost can’t – and, look, I know most of the people that, unfortunately, I have to take to jail. I know them, too, which sometimes it helps to gain compliance …

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Q: Tell me why, when someone is now complying with police orders with their hands on the ground, that’s the appropriate time to punt them in the face. Why?

A: I can explain, and I think it’s important, too, because I think this is the disconnect between maybe the public and that we do for a living …

But the bottom line is if this person has a firearm, still has a firearm and he’s not completely compliant and he hasn’t shown compliance in the beginning, you as an officer, you’re not going to feel any better and you had better not, right? …

So even then even when they start to comply and not quickly – as I talked about, normal people, a gun comes out, pointed at you, you get on the ground quickly, like you mean it, with no hesitation. When that doesn’t happen, there’s – you don’t have compliance. And that’s what we train on is compliance. So that person at that point just because he’s almost on the ground, he can still draw a weapon.

At the proximity they are at, we teach ground fighting now. There’s people out there that I can tell you, you close the distance on them and stay close to them, they can get a hold of you and do bad things quickly …

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Cpl. Torres testified that these days “people will quickly get you on the ground and choke you out and kill you with a blood choke, and it’s happening. I said, they are learning [Mixed Martial Arts], they are training at prisons and certain things.

So that’s why we teach complete compliance. Someone has to be compliant in that situation. So if someone’s not compliant, completely compliant, then you’re not going to act or drop your guard at that point. You can’t, or you could get hurt.”

DAG Denney followed with a question – “Including when they are actually handcuffed, right?

Cpl. Torres answered, “Yes, sir.”

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Q: Are you aware that earlier today, Thomas Webster took the witness stand and said that this is a mistake. That he did not actually mean to kick Lateef Dickerson in the head?

A: Wasn’t there.

Q: This is news to you?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: But it’s your testimony that such a kick actually would have been fine?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What does it say, then, about the fact that this was a mistake?

A: … I’m here to testify to the training and what we train for. I can’t testify to the perception of any individual officer and I’m not going to because I wasn’t there that day.

But what I can just say from what I saw why I felt that would be justified, the fact of what we teach, two hands on a weapon, it’s a felony stop so you’re going to have your gun out, we train that, so I’ve covered that.

They felt the need to move in. I said that a textbook – and, look, officers make mistakes. I don’t care who you are. SEAL Team 6 makes mistakes. That’s the nature. We’re humans. None of us go through our jobs without making mistakes or do things exactly the way they are supposed to be shown …

So when you move in, it would be reasonable for an officer if someone’s not compliant, you need to gain compliance, you need to deliver a strike, then you are going to deliver a kick. So that’s why I feel that that would be reasonable. Whether or not the mistake was he meant to kick the person somewhere else and he kicked him in the head, I don’t know. I wasn’t in here, and I don’t know his perception at the time …

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Cpl. Torres explains “We teach a forgiving technique where when we teach our baton, we teach a technique that you aim for center mass, arms, and legs with the baton if you are going to use the expandable baton.

And the reason why we teach the center mass of the arms and legs is because there is a forgiving technique that – versus flailing around and things are moving in a fight, which they do. It’s going to be violent. People are moving.”

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Redirect examination by Mr. Liguori

Q: And Corporal, how long have you been a trooper?

A: Ten and a half years.

Q: Okay. Something you wanted to do your whole life?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Something you want to do for the rest of your life?

A: Until I can retire, yes, sir.

Q: Good. So you’re here to lie on the behalf of Tom?

A: No, sir.

Q: I do have one other question. This kick, this instruction video, the second kick under your training techniques was reasonable under that circumstance?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: OK.

A: We teach it.

Q: Tell me whether or not the fact that it landed in the jaw, does it undermine the fact that the second kick was permissible?

A: No, sir. You’re looking at a deadly force situation, so, no.

Q: So the second kick, he could have kicked and missed, right?

A: He could have.

Q: Yeah. And in fact, just because I think you mentioned it, you mentioned the Asp and all that stuff?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: In your training, in your experience, and your work with regard to how to use the Asp, is there degree of actual missing when you try to strike somebody from this using your asp?

A: Can you – yeah, you can miss …

So that’s why we do the forgiving technique, and that’s why we have them aim for center mass and not a specific point on something because you just have to know it’s not going to go down perfect. So I could train you to hit someone exactly in the tip of the nose and it’s probably not going to happen in a real fight, so …

Q: And, lastly, you saw the switch-on, switch-off that you trained here, right?

A: I did, sir. Yes, sir.

Mr. Liguori: Thank you. Nothing further.

Judge Ferris Wharton: Recross?

Mr. Denney: None, your Honor. Thank you.

Judge Wharton: You can step down.

Cpl. Torres: Thank you, sir.

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