Records show behavior of Dover officer facing assault trial

DOVER — Use of force reports and personnel evaluations suggest that Dover police knew that a white officer accused of assaulting a black suspect in 2013 by kicking him in the head had a predilection for using unwarranted physical force.

The attorney for Cpl. Thomas Webster IV has argued in court filings that prosecutors should not be allowed to use the internal police records at Webster’s trial on an assault charge, which is scheduled to open next Monday.

Meanwhile, a judge has yet to rule on a defense motion to prevent prosecutors from suggesting to the jury that police intentionally lost or destroyed the dashcam video from Webster’s cruiser as part of a conspiracy to protect him. According to prosecution court papers, the dashcam footage was “purged” after an internal affairs investigator concluded that it contained “no evidentiary value.”

Dashcam video taken from another officer’s car shows Webster kicking Lateef Dickerson while Dickerson was on his hands and knees. Dickerson was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw.

Webster is charged with second-degree assault. A deadline for him to accept a plea offer expired Monday.

Thomas W. Webster IV

Thomas W. Webster IV

According to court papers unsealed late last week, prosecutors have reviewed 29 prior use-of-force reports for Webster and are seeking to point to three specific incidents, arguing that Webster has a tendency to “disregard basic safety concerns.”

In one incident in 2006, Webster punched a suspect in the face while he was trying to handcuff him after a vehicle pursuit in which a police officer’s car flipped over and collided with Webster’s cruiser, according to the papers. An internal investigation found that Webster did not violate police department policy but noted that an “alternative method of compliance” in trying to subdue the suspect could have been used.

In 2010, Webster was hit in the chest by a drunken driving suspect who became combative while having his blood drawn at a hospital. Webster responded by hitting the man twice in the face, breaking his nose, the papers show. In another incident that year, those records indicate, Webster used a stun gun on a man suspected of loitering, then struck him four times in the face as he resisted being handcuffed.

Defense attorney James Liguori argues that none of the incident reports suggest that Webster’s actions could be considered criminal, and that they should not be allowed into evidence.

“Police work is inherently hands on, on occasion,” Liguori said Monday. “And hands on is justified if the circumstances warrant.”

But personnel evaluations outlined in court papers show that Webster’s own supervisors sometimes questioned his actions.

A 2006 evaluation noted that Webster “is very fit and strong,” but that there were times when he should have tried “lesser degrees of force to accomplish an objective.”

A 2012 performance evaluation also was critical of Webster.

“Pfc. Webster has made some poor decisions and he obviously does not think of the consequences of his actions,” the report reads.

The report said Webster demonstrated “very poor judgment” in driving two intoxicated men to a remote area several miles from Dover and stranding them there, rather than taking them to a hospital, as one had requested. State police later found the two men, one needing immediate medical attention, after receiving a call from a concerned citizen. Webster was suspended for 80 hours and given nine months of disciplinary probation.

Dover police spokesman Mark Hoffman said in an email Monday that the department is prohibited by law from discussing disciplinary matters.

Following Webster’s encounter with Dickerson, then-Attorney General Beau Biden’s office took the case to a grand jury but failed to get an indictment. The current attorney general, Matt Denn, reviewed the case after taking office in January and ordered that it be taken to a second grand jury.

Liguori has argued in court papers that Denn’s decision to take the case to a second grand jury with no new evidence was a politically motivated response to nationwide scrutiny of police encounters with black citizens.

“The attorney general’s office intentionally selected defendant due to his race and position as a police officer to further political motivations and capitalize on the national attention to the subject matter,” Liguori wrote.

According to court papers, a member of the second grand jury contacted a judge days after the indictment was issued said that she felt “pressured and manipulated by the deputy attorney general in the grand jury.”

But prosecutor Mark Denney Jr. said in a court filing that the state “adamantly denies” any selective prosecution.


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