Jury to begin 3rd day of deliberations in officer’s assault case


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NAACP’s La Mar Gunn, right, gives instructions to protesters Monday outside the Kent County Courthouse in Dover. The protesters are demanding that Dover Police Cpl. Thomas Webster IV be found guilty of assault. With no jury verdict Monday, Mr. Gunn asked the protesters to return to the courthouse this morning. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Several hours of deliberations Monday produced no verdict in the trial of a Dover police officer accused of assaulting a suspect with a kick to a jaw during an August 2013 apprehension.

While a crowd of onlookers gathered to follow the trial in Kent County Superior Court, jurors behind closed doors discussed the fate of Cpl. Thomas Webster IV, who is facing a felony second-degree assault charge from the confrontation with Lateef Dickerson.

Mr. Dickerson was a suspect who reportedly fled from a late night fight and was possibly armed with a gun on Aug. 24, 2013.

On Monday jurors arrived a t 9 a.m. and were dismissed by Judge Ferris Wharton after 4 p.m. Deliberations resume today at 9 a.m. at the Kent County Courthouse.

Mr. Dickerson suffered a broken jaw and was knocked unconscious as Cpl. Webster and another Dover PD officer located him in the area of U.S. 13 and Maple Parkway at approximately 11 p.m., a sequence that was captured on a patrol vehicle’s dashcam.

Cpl. Webster, suspended without pay since indictment in May 2015 and presumed innocent unless proven guilty, testified last week.

He said he was aiming a kick at Mr. Dickerson’s upper torso to gain the suspect’s compliance and accidentally connected with his jaw.

Prosecutors Mark Denney and Danielle Brennan maintain the kick was an excessive use of force.

According to Delaware Code, felony assault is present when a jury finds that someone causes serious physical injury and acts intentionally or in a reckless manner that was a gross deviation from the standard of conduct a reasonable person would observe in the situation. The offense is a class D felony.

The jury returned briefly to the courtroom late in the morning, seeking a dictionary and/or Judge Wharton’s guidance to define the term “gross deviation.”

Judge Wharton said the term was not explained in a dictionary, and is not defined by Delaware law either.

The judge counseled the jury to consider the term as a “common ordinary understanding of what that means,” especially in the context of a specific case.

According to the Associated Press, Cpl. Webster’s defense lawyer, Jim Liguori, sent an email to the judge asking him to verify whether jurors, who may have been Christmas shopping this weekend, had obeyed the court’s instructions to avoid media accounts of the trial or read any outside material.

It was not immediately clear how Judge Wharton responded to Liguori’s email, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, the jury was dismissed to begin deliberations at approximately 11:40 a.m., and sent home for the day as 4:30 p.m. approached.

A resolution to a civil lawsuit between Mr. Dickerson, the city and Cpl. Webster has apparently been reached, though no official comment other than confirmation has yet been offered.

No details are currently available, according to the City of Dover and ACLU of Delaware officials.

The ACLU of Delaware filed the lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Mr. Dickerson in September 2014.

Mr. Dickerson, sought by multiple law enforcement jurisdictions on various unrelated felony charges, has not appeared at any of the proceedings.

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