Dover police release video of incident that led to officer’s arrest

 

DOVER — Reacting to a federal judge’s ruling that a video relating to the arrest of Lateef Dickerson by Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV on Aug. 24, 2013, was not considered confidential, the Dover Police Department released it publicly Thursday afternoon.

The Aug. 24, 2013, arrest brought Monday’s indictment on a second-degree felony assault charge against Cpl. Webster. The video, lasting five minutes and 35 seconds, was recorded by a camera in an undisclosed Dover Police officer’s vehicle.

Cpl. Webster was put on administrative leave without pay when Dover Police was notified of the indictment returned by a Kent County grand jury. Mr. Dickerson suffered a broken jaw and other injuries in the incident, and allegedly was rendered unconscious by a kick to the head from Cpl. Webster while going to the ground at gunpoint after verbal commands, according to Dover Police.
The ACLU of Delaware is suing Cpl. Webster and the city of Dover on behalf of Mr. Dickerson regarding the matter.

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Dover Police Lt. Jason Pires said the department has made numerous notifications in the community. “We’re just being preemptive with everything,” Lt. Pires said.

A criminal case review is scheduled for May 28 in Kent County Superior Court.

After the video’s release, Dover Police held an afternoon press conference at its headquarters on Queen Street to discuss why it was releasing the video at this time.

Mayor Robin Christiansen said that on April 27 Judge Richard Andrews from the United States District Court ordered the dash-cam video from the incident occurring with Cpl. Webster to become a public document.

“Transparency has always been a priority for the city of Dover and the Dover police department,” he said. “In keeping with that transparency we felt it was important to maintain the integrity of our beliefs, so we released the video that will show the actions that took place on the evening of Aug 24, 2013.”

Mayor Christiansen was joined by Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat, Deputy Chief of Police Maj. Marvin Mailey, Councilman James Hutchison, Council President David Bonar, city manager Scott Koenig, assistant city manager Kirby Hudson and Lt. Jason Pires, commander of the department’s patrol unit, of which Cpl. Webster was a member.

In light of recent incidents that prompted civil unrest in Baltimore and other parts of the nation, Lt. Pires said the police department hasn’t heard of any possible threats or acts of violence regarding the video’s release. He said the department has made numerous notifications to store owners, schools, colleges and universities in the city.

“We’re just being preemptive with everything,” Lt. Pires said. “We told them that there’s a video that’s going to come out that is controversial and wanted to make them aware.”

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Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen

Mayor Christiansen said any acts of violence will not be tolerated.

“I assure all of our citizens their First Amendment rights to protest will be honored, but I must assure members of our community that violence will not be tolerated,” he said.

“We must all work together to keep Dover a place we love to call home.”

Defense’s view

Representing Cpl. Webster, attorney Jim Liguori said Thursday afternoon from his Dover office the video’s release was out of his control and did not illustrate the full context of the incident in question.

“Since we are involved in the vigorous defense of Tom Webster right now, I can’t comment on the video evidence,” Mr. Liguori said.

The video released was not from Cpl. Webster’s car, Mr. Liguori said, but another Dover Police vehicle. Thus, Mr. Liguori said, no full context of Cpl. Webster’s action was presented, including video, audio, dispatch and emergency communications he engaged in prior to the alleged incident.

“My mother’s favorite movie is ‘The Thin Man’ and there’s a climactic fight scene at the end,” Mr. Liguori said. “Without seeing the rest of the film leading up to that scene, there’s no way to know or understand why the fight is happening.”

At the news conference, Dover Police would not divulge from which patrol car the video was taken.

What Dover Police released is “taken out of context and it’s my goal to persevere and put this into full context,” Mr. Liguori said.

As far as all other factors regarding the case, Mr. Liguori said, “Everything else I expect we will be able to present at trial in proper context.”

The Delaware Attorney General’s office prosecuting the case had no further comment regarding the video’s release.

“No, we’ve answered all of the questions asked (that we could) over the past few days, and don’t have anything else to add,” a spokesman said.

About 90 minutes after the release, ACLU of Delaware, which filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages and changes to Dover Police practices and policies on Sept. 29, 2014, issued a statement that included:

“We believe that the video demonstrates the need for large-scale reform of the Dover Police Department, specifically improvements to their use of force and internal affairs practices, and supervision of their officers,” executive director Kathleen MacRae said.

“The people of Dover have a right to know about this incident and deserve a dialogue with law enforcement about how they can create a safe and equitable Dover community for all.”

Reached by phone, Ms. MacRae said she was glad the video was released.

The ACLU said its lawsuits are filed to represent client interests and affect long-term public policy change and, “We believe that police officers should only use force as a last resort and must be held responsible when they use more force than is absolutely necessary. …”

At Thursday’s press conference, Lt. Pires said he believes the video shows an isolated incident.

“We have a great relationship with our community,” he said. “I think this is an isolated incident. We did our due diligence as far as following up, investigating it and turning it over to the proper authorities to ensure that accountability was there.”

Asked for comment on the matter, Gov. Jack Markell’s provided a statement through a spokeswoman:

“The video is disturbing,” Gov. Markell said. “Now is the time for patience as the justice system considers all of the facts and circumstances in Cpl. Webster’s case.

“Police agencies and the communities they serve must trust one another. Situations like this can erode that trust, and we need to be committed every day to a dialogue of respect and understanding for the rights of citizens and the challenging jobs we ask our police to do every day.”
Attempts to reach former Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt, the city’s law enforcement leader at the time of the alleged incident and who was elected to city council last month, were unsuccessful.

He will be sworn onto council Monday.

Unindicted, then indicted

Approximately an hour after the 2:15 p.m. video release Dover Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 President David Gist, a master corporal with the force, issued a statement saying the FOP “continues to support Cpl. Webster and his family but understands why his actions were outside of department policy. …”

Cpl. Gist said Dover Police took proper administrative action after an investigation and noted that Cpl. Webster was not indicted by a grand jury in March 2014. Also, the FOP president said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that no civil rights violations occurred.

The Attorney General’s return of the case before a second grand jury more than a year later without new evidence was “puzzling,” according to Cpl. Gist, however, “we will allow the justice system to work appropriately. We will not have any further comment at this time,” he said.

In November 2013, Cpl. Webster was placed on paid administrative leave by Dover Police as a “multi-pronged investigation” into the incident, authorities said. An internal investigation deemed his actions outside departmental policy, and police said appropriate actions were taken.

Police would not discuss the nature of any potential disciplinary actions taken.

Cpl. Webster returned to duty in June 2014 and was reassigned to the patrol division.

On Monday, Cpl. Webster was arrested and presented to a Kent County Superior Court commissioner, and released on $5,000 unsecured bond.

System at work

Council President Bonar said Thursday the mayor and council have full trust in the city police department’s administration, officers and staff.

“I think this is best left up to a judge and jury to decide, and we should let the criminal justice system do its job,” he said.

Councilman David Anderson said he supported the decision of Chief Bernat to release the video.

“That’s a judgment call on whether to release the video, and I’m glad it was us because we can give the context of the city and the way it was diligent about presenting this matter,” he said.

“I think it’s proper that the story be told in context and the police department takes ownership of what happened, good and bad.”

Councilman-elect Roy Sudler Jr., who will represent the Fourth District when he is sworn in Monday, said he was proud of the way the police department handled the situation.

“They handled it correctly,” Mr. Sudler said. “That kind of behavior will not be tolerated, not underneath my leadership. If I’m going to be targeted then I’m just going to be targeted, but I’m going to stand for something.”

The NAACP of Central Delaware did not favor releasing the video, to the point of issuing a news release on Wednesday night urging no public disclosure. President La Mar Gunn reacted with tacit acceptance of the release on Thursday, aiming to turn it into something good for the community as a whole.

“We were opposed to today’s release,” he said. “However, our commitment is to the safety and unity of the people who live here.

“We will support the police department, although we disagree with today’s decision. We will still support the idea that Tom Webster deserves due process, and trust that the legal system views his actions as unconscionable and egregious as we all do.”

Instead of civil unrest in reacting to the matter, Mr. Gunn sees the case as opportunity to bring the community together.

“It’s my hope and prayer that this becomes instead of the worst of times, the best opportunity for Dover to show that we can come together and set aside petty differences instead of letting this rip us apart,” Mr. Gunn said.

“I believe that this can be the occurrence that brings us all together and work for the greater good.”
Mr. Gunn said he and other community leaders, many faith-based and cutting across all demographics, were meeting Thursday night to plan response to the developments. As the week began, a march originally was planned to protest the handling of Cpl. Webster’s situation, which changed dramatically with Monday’s indictment.

Public can decide

After viewing the video earlier, Mr. Anderson said it was time for the public to take a look and decide for itself the implications and ramifications of the event.

“We’ll see how the people react,” he said. “We who have seen it so far are dismayed and shocked that it happened, but are glad we didn’t try to cover it up or run from it. We’ll find out what the public thinks.”

Mr. Anderson said a town hall meeting to discuss issues is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Solid Rock Baptist Church at 113 N. West St.

“I just hope the public pays attention to the context, not just the sensationalism of the video which includes actions which I condemn,” Mr. Anderson said.

Just prior to the video’s release Thursday, Delaware Coalition for Open Government President John Flaherty said there was “compelling public interest” for the video’s public release, “particularly with other situations that have engulfed law enforcement agencies around the country.”

After the release, Mr. Flaherty said, “I think (the Dover Police Department) should be commended for its commitment to openness and transparency to the public in releasing this video.”

The video had been discussed publicly among some with access to it, with Dover Police, ACLU of Delaware and the Attorney General’s office having it in their possession.

“It just goes to show how technology can reinforce the cause for justice,” Mr. Flaherty said.

“If there’s video out there that might show a person having his rights violated by a police officer, then it could act as a learning experience not only for law enforcement but the public at large.”

Staff writer Arshon Howard contributed to this report and can be reached at 741-8230 or ahoward@newszap.com.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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