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Building Bridges: Shooting victim’s sister seeks justice and systemic change

Keandra McDole, of Wilmington, tends to the grave of her brother Jeremy, who was killed by police in Wilmington in 2015. (Delaware Public Media/Sophia Schmidt)

WILMINGTON — Keandra McDole had just clocked into her shift at Rite Aid when her phone started ringing.

She checked Facebook and saw her brother’s name.

“RIP Jeremy,” she remembers reading. ‘They didn’t have to do Bam Bam like that.’

She asked her manager if she could step out, then got a call from her stepmom. At first she couldn’t believe it; the police had killed him.

Twenty-eight-year-old Jeremy “Bam Bam” McDole was shot multiple times by four Wilmington police officers on Sept. 15, 2015.

“The first story was that he was waving a gun,” said Ms. McDole in an interview earlier this month. “The second story was that a police officer had seen a barrel of the gun in his pants. The third story was that he shot himself, so they said suicide by cop. It was so many different stories, and I just know my brother. I know what type of person he is and he wouldn’t put himself in a situation like that. So I just had to dig deep and actually find the truth.”

Finding the truth and getting justice for her brother has been Keandra McDole’s mission the past five years.

She and her family dispute law enforcement’s version of events. Former Wilmington police officer Joseph Dellose said he saw the barrel of a gun where Jeremy McDole was fidgeting in his waistband, and fired on Mr. McDole because he feared for his life. Ms. McDole says her brother did not have a gun during the incident, and that the one police say they found was planted at the scene.

The Delaware Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated this claim following the incident, and found no evidence that the shooting scene was altered.

The four officers involved in McDole’s shooting were never criminally charged.

DOJ released a report in 2016 that criticized Mr. Dellose’s police work and Wilmington Police Department training. It concluded that the conduct of the three other officers involved — Daniel Silva, Thomas Lynch and James MacColl — was justified under state law. Former Attorney General Matt Denn thought the state should try to pursue a felony assault charge against Mr. Dellose, but DOJ’s investigation concluded based on expert analysis that Mr. Dellose could not be successfully prosecuted.

Ms. McDole is pushing to have the investigation into her brother’s death reopened, as well as the state’s use of force statutes changed.

“When my brother was shot and murdered, I couldn’t just sit down idly and not do anything,” said Ms. McDole. “After months went on, I’m like, hold on — actually, this is bigger than Jeremy. This is way bigger than him. If you stand up and fight, now you’re fighting for all of us, not just you. You’re fighting for other people’s family members.”

Ms. McDole says what she remembers most about Jeremy was his smile.

“He had this glowing smile with nothing but teeth,” she said. “He was always smiling.”

Ms. McDole says despite being paralyzed from getting shot in the back at age 18, her brother was an upbeat person.

“He loved kids,” she said. “Every morning he had this routine where he would come pick up my nephew and take him to the corner store to get a blue water ice. My nephew would sit on the porch and wait for him. He would put the kids on his wheelchair and make go-kart noises. … All the kids knew when Uncle Bam Bam or Mr. Bam Bam comes, he got candy.”

“He attracted people,” she added. “He was just a good person. I’m not saying that my brother was an angel — he definitely wasn’t an angel. Nobody’s an angel. Nobody’s perfect.”

Ms. McDole says her brother’s death is not the only experience that has shaped her activism around police reform.

“I never cared too much for police in general,” she said. “Because I live in the inner city — we see a lot of stuff, we see harassment and everything else. But what happened to my brother is what made me go into the streets actually and show my face at protests and marches. People think that I’m not shy and don’t mind being in front of the camera. I am shy, and I don’t like the camera but ever since everything happened to my brother I had to put that to the back of my mind and do what I needed to do to protect him and anybody else in the future.”

Ms. McDole says amid the nationwide protest movement for racial justice and police accountability, her rallies have garnered more participation. She has already held two this summer.

“I do believe that every protest that we have gets a little bigger each time.” “and it’s different faces — faces that I don’t even know.”

She says this moment feels different.

“Look at what happened with the looting and the rioting a little over a month ago — that’s when Delaware woke up. When you start digging in their pockets, that’s what they don’t like. You can protest, you can march and all everything else. But if you start affecting their money, that’s a problem.”

Similarly, Ms. McDole thinks that police officers should personally have to pay for settlements related to officer-involved shootings.

“To know that, ‘Hold up, if I shoot this person, I could go broke. For real,’” she said. “Right now, there’s no accountability for these officers that are just going out and killing people.”

Ms. McDole recently released photos of her brother’s body on social media.

“I had to go back and forth with my family about it, because we didn’t want to put it out — you know, that’s personal,” she said. “But we needed people to feel what my brother felt that day. … We needed people to see what we see when we close our eyes.”

“It’s a long fight,” she added. “It is.”

The Wilmington Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on this story.