DOVER — Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton made a stop in the capital city Monday to speak in support of Senate Bill 149, which aims to increase transparency and allow more oversight of police.
“If you have nothing to hide, then open up the files,” the Rev. Sharpton said in front of Legislative Hall. “Make it open to scrutiny by the citizens that pay you, so that people can see what is going on.”
The Rev. Sharpton spoke at a rally for police accountability and reform, organized by Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, a group that seeks to promote judicial transparency and accountability in the Delaware court system, its website states.
Saying he would rather visit to offer support than just send a statement, the advocate briefly stopped in Dover before traveling to Brunswick, Georgia.
“This is the First State. They ought to set a national example of police accountability and appropriate police behavior,” the Rev. Sharpton said. “If it starts in the First State, it helps us nationwide.”
Sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, SB 149 seeks to amend the Law-Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights by opening up officers’ disciplinary records to the public. According to a synopsis of the bill, Delaware is in the minority of states barring public access to police misconduct documentation.
Sen. Lockman was not at Monday’s rally and a Senate spokesperson said Monday evening that she was not aware of the event.
Under LEOBOR, misconduct records are secret and not accessible to criminal defense counsel, the media or the public. The synopsis of SB 149 states that the only non-law enforcement entities who have access to those records are civil plaintiff attorneys suing the police for causing physical injury or damages.
SB 149 was released from the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 16 and is listed as ready for consideration.
Lakeisha Nix spoke in favor of the bill Monday, as it could offer more clarity on the January police-involved death of her brother, Lymond Moses, who was fatally shot by New Castle County police officers in January. (No use of force report has been released in that case as the state Department of Justice continues to investigate.)
“It’s been 10 months and nine days, and we still don’t have any clear answers as to what punishments, if any, these officers will face for their wrongdoing,” Ms. Nix said. “These officers are being protected by biased investigations due to the incestuous relationship between the police community, the Department of Justice and our legislators.”
She said she would like to see SB 149 approved without any amendments. Additionally, she spoke against police departments being given the option to create community oversight boards (as opposed to those boards being mandatory) or having the ability to seat officers on those boards.
However, Ms. Nix said there is an uphill battle before any change can be passed, adding that Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, and House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, have “deep connections” in the law enforcement community. Both men are retired law enforcement officers.
She said that, if elected officials are not willing to serve the people, they can be voted out.
“Election year is coming,” Ms. Nix said.
She continued, saying that people want transparency along with swift, unbiased communication of any police misconduct. She said there should be a mandate that an external and independent criminal investigation be held after any use of force results in an officer-involved shooting or a death while an individual is in custody of an officer.
“We can’t trust a due process that has proven favoritism toward protecting police reputation through sealing records of misconduct and biased investigation by their peers that have led to no criminal charges where criminal charges were warranted,” Ms. Nix said. “How many more bodies have to drop until Delaware sees the urgency of these bold amendments, if not the repeal of LEOBOR? It’s past time to pass SB 149. Change is immediate. Anything outside of that is procrastination.”
Keandra Ray — the sister of Jeremy McDole, a paraplegic man who was shot and killed by Wilmington police in 2015 — called for a federal investigation of all police departments in Delaware.
“This is something that happens in the state of Delaware very often,” Ms. Ray said of police misconduct. “We need the feds to come in and investigate every police agency in the state of Delaware.”
The Department of Justice ruled that the four police officers involved were not criminally responsible in the death of Mr. McDole, although the report cited “serious deficiencies” at the time in the way the Wilmington department prepared officers “with regard to use of force policies and training and policies for dealing with individuals with mental illness, disabilities, or cognitive impairments.”
Ms. Ray said that, since her brother was killed, she feels she has been harassed by Wilmington officers. “I should not be in fear of my life every time I step outside my doors,” she said.
When the 152nd General Assembly convenes in January, the Rev. Sharpton promised to bring advocates from around the country to stand with Ms. Nix and Ms. Ray, as they pursue more police accountability and transparency.
“It seems to me ironic, if not insulting, as I was coming in, that you have the nerve to name a street after Martin Luther King Jr., while the people of Dr. King are being abused by police, and you will not hold them accountable,” he said. “You should take the sign down if you’re not going to live up to the principles of Martin Luther King.”