Report: Dover cop justified in shooting fleeing man

 

Police tape marks the scene where a Dover police officer shot a 21-year-old man near a day care center in Dover. Authorities said the man, suspected of possessing a handgun, was fleeing police. He suffered a wound to his leg and is facing weapons charges. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Police tape marks the scene where a Dover police officer shot a 21-year-old man near a day care center in Dover. Authorities said the man, suspected of possessing a handgun, was fleeing police. He suffered a wound to his leg and is facing weapons charges. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — A Dover Police Department officer was justified in shooting a fleeing man last year due to a reasonable belief in protecting “himself or others from death or serious physical injury,” according to investigators in a report released Wednesday.

The Delaware Department of Justice found that Pfc. Ryan Schmid did not act recklessly in discharging his weapon toward Terrence Fletcher during an apprehension in downtown Dover on Aug. 28, and no criminal charges were warranted.

“Officers were attempting to apprehend a suspect who was believed to be armed with a gun,” the Justice investigation concluded.

“Pfc. Schmid was positioned in the parking lot of 120 North Governors Avenue, and reported seeing Mr. Fletcher enter the parking lot with a gun. Mr. Fletcher acknowledged that he had a gun and threw it.

“He also confirmed that after he was shot he heard an officer say ‘he had a gun; he threw it.’ “

Dover Police spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said Pfc. Schmid has been on full duty since last fall and his “status remains unchanged.”

No immediate comment from the Dover Police Department was available after the findings were made public.

The Department of Justice said investigators from the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust “examined the crime scene and also reviewed evidence, reports written by officers who responded to the scene and witness interviews.

“Attorneys with the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust reviewed the use of force …”

Based on what the Department of Justice described as facts of the incident, a confidential informant first notified police that he believed a black male suspect (later identified as Mr. Fletcher) was armed with a gun at approximately 1 p.m. in the area of Division and New streets.

Police responded to the scene, the Department of Justice said, and three officers searched for the suspect. A person believed to be the suspect was spotted, according to the report, and officers formed a plan to approach him.

While one officer moved toward the suspect in front of a property on South New Street while exiting a vehicle, two other officers, including Pfc. Schmid, would position themselves in the parking lot of 120 S. Governors Ave., according to the Department of Justice.

“Based on experience, the officers knew that there was a break in the chain link fence that ran along the parking lot located at 120 South Governors Avenue, and that suspects fleeing the area in which Mr. Fletcher had been observed would run through the alley between 111 and 115 South New Street, through the break in the fence, and into the parking lot to escape,” the report read.

Fleeing into alley

Upon spotting an approaching officer, according to the report, Mr. Fletcher “fled east through the alley toward the parking lot.”

Police said Terrance Fletcher ran down this alley to be later confronted by the officer on South Governor’s Avenue. (Delaware State News/File photo)

Police said Terrance Fletcher ran down this alley to be later confronted by the officer on South Governor’s Avenue. (Delaware State News/File photo)

The officer exited his vehicle and began a foot pursuit, identifying himself as a police officer and ordering the suspect to stop running.

“(The officer) observed Mr. Fletcher move his hands to his waistband in a manner which caused (the officer) to believe that Mr. Fletcher was armed,” the report said.

“The (officer) was about 20 feet behind Mr. Fletcher, also shouted to Mr. Fletcher to drop the gun.”

The suspect continued to flee through a chain link fence and into the parking lot and the pursuing officer “did not observe Mr. Fletcher throw anything before entering the parking lot through the break in the fence.

“When Mr. Fletcher entered the parking lot, (the officer) heard shots, and he slowed his approach because he did not know who had fired the shots.”

According to the report, Pfc. Schmid “only observed Mr. Fletcher for a split second as he came through the break in the fence and then his line of sight was blocked by a parked vehicle.”

The officer then “fired two rounds from his department-issued Glock .40 caliber handgun, striking Mr. Fletcher once in his right thigh,” according to the Department of Justice report.

Mr. Fletcher interviews

The Department of Justice referenced interviews with Mr. Fletcher in the report, and he acknowledged “that he was standing outside of a residence on South New Street when a vehicle pulled up in front of the residence.

“Mr. Fletcher denied knowing that (the person in vehicle) was a police officer but acknowledged that he took off down the alley and into the parking lot of 120 South Governors Avenue once (the officer) pulled up in his vehicle.”

As he continued to flee and entered the parking lot, according to the report, Mr. Fletcher said “he heard one gunshot and realized that he had been shot. He did not see who fired the shot that struck him.

“He recalled hearing one of the officers stating, ‘He had a gun; he threw it.’ Mr. Fletcher initially denied having a gun but admitted during a later interview that he had a .38 caliber handgun, loaded with five rounds, and that he threw the gun.”

Taken into custody

Mr. Fletcher was then handcuffed while on the ground, the report determined and officers began administering first aid.

“The call for shots fired was broadcast by officers at 1:18 p.m.,” the report stated.

“Officers secured Mr. Fletcher without further incident and continued to render aid until paramedics arrived. Mr. Fletcher was transported to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover where he was treated for a non-life threatening gunshot wound to his right thigh.

As other officers arrived, according to the report, “Pfc. Schmid reported that he saw Mr. Fletcher with a gun, but that he had not been able to find the gun. Officers cordoned off the area from the crowd that was gathering and searched for the gun. During the canvass of the area, Mr. Fletcher’s gun, a .38 caliber Rossi revolver, was recovered in a grassy area on the other side of the fence adjacent to the parking lot and just north of where Mr. Fletcher fell after he was shot.

“The barrel of the gun was partially lodged in the ground, consistent with the gun having been thrown as opposed to having been dropped.”

Mr. Fletcher pleaded guilty to carrying a concealed deadly weapon on Dec. 16, 2015.

He was sentenced effective on Aug. 28, 2015, to eight years Level V incarceration, suspended after five months, followed by one year Level III probation.

In March 2016, Mr. Fletcher was found to be in violation of his probation, and was sentenced to seven years, seven months Level V, suspended for six months Level IV, followed by one year Level III.

Speaking with witnesses

The Department of Justice report said several witnesses were interviewed during the investigation, including, “One witness (who) was sitting in the parking lot in his car with the windows down waiting for a friend when the shooting occurred. He stated that when he heard the shots he could only see the officer and did not see Mr. Fletcher until after the shooting.

“He told investigators that he had seen Mr. Fletcher walk through the same break in the fence just a short time earlier as he sat in his car waiting for his friend.

“The witness stated that Mr. Fletcher ‘came out of nowhere’ and that he believed the officer ‘didn’t have [a] choice.’

“The witness also stated that he did not hear any shouts of ‘shoot him’ as reported by another witness and did not hear any of the officers say the shot was supposed to be a warning shot, as Mr. Fletcher stated.”

The Department of Justice said no police officers wore body cameras at the time and two police department vehicles were not equipped with in-car video.

“Videos obtained from the downtown Dover video camera system showed (a police officer in vehicle) arriving at 111 South New Street and Mr. Fletcher running as described by (the officer),” the report read.

“A video from a nearby business confirmed the officers meeting to discuss their plan of operation for confronting Mr. Fletcher. Citizen videos recorded the scene after the shooting occurred but no videos of the shooting were discovered during the investigation.”

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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