DOVER — John Zimmerman must know more before passing judgment on the Aug. 24, 2013, interaction between a Dover police corporal and the man he’s accused of assaulting.
Mr. Zimmerman, part-owner of a Dover florist shop, hasn’t viewed the five-minute, 25-second video taken from a patrol car and released publicly Thursday, nor read or heard too much about it.
On Friday, Mr. Zimmerman referred to the tag line of a late, iconic radio personality when evaluating the situation that comes at a time of national unrest regarding police brutality claims.
“Like Paul Harvey always said, I would like to know the rest of the story,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
“We only get one side and there’s probably more to this than what’s been told,” he added. “I will say this: I don’t think police randomly go out there with the purpose of doing some harm to someone.”
On Monday, a Kent County grand jury indicted Dover Police Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV on a second-degree felony assault charge. The charge stemmed from Lateef Dickerson’s arrest and a kick to his head that rendered him unconscious and suffering a broken jaw and other injuries.
Mr. Dickerson initially was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, theft under $1,500, third-degree conspiracy and third-degree assault. All of those charges were dismissed by the Attorney General’s office.
To Dover resident Nathan Dunbar, news of the incident was not unexpected.
“Sadly, but surely, I’m not quite surprised,” he said while walking into the city library Friday afternoon. “Hopefully, it’s handled properly and not swept under the rug.”
Asked about Dover police officers, Mr. Duncan said, “All of them aren’t bad but all of them aren’t good either.”
Exiting the post office, Dwayne Stanton said: “He should be prosecuted just like it was one of us out here on the street.”
The attorney general’s office also brought forth evidence seeking an indictment of Cpl. Webster in March 2014, but a Kent County grand jury did not return one. Current Attorney General Matt Denn reviewed the case after taking office in January and sought an indictment that was issued earlier this week.
A criminal case review is scheduled for May 28 in Kent County Superior Court.
Cpl. Webster was placed on administrative leave without pay by the Dover Police Department following the indictment.
Delaware Police Chiefs Council Chairman William Bryson, the Camden police chief, said the council was troubled by
an arrest being made over a year after evidence was presented by the attorney general’s office and no indictment was earlier returned.
However, Chief. Bryson watched the video and said he was unsure if the police officer’s actions were proper.
“The individual was obviously not complying with their commands,” Chief Bryson said. “Force to gain compliance was necessary, but I’m not sure the force used was appropriate.”
Public reaction calm
Central Middle School Principal Shan Green said the school’s Crisis Team met on Monday and Thursday to prepare for anything that might arise from issues related to the case. However, the video’s release hadn’t created any extra chatter within the hallways.
Ms. Green saw the video and described it as “disturbing” while also acknowledging there was a lot about the case she did not know.
Central Middle guidance counselors, a school-based social worker and psychologist were at the ready to speak with any students that might need to talk about the incident, Principal Green said. She wasn’t aware of any student who had requested a meeting.
“We planned to make sure our kids realize they are safe inside our school should there be protest or rioting,” Ms. Green said,
EShed Alston stood in front of City Hall Friday afternoon holding a sign that stated “All Life Matters to God” in all
capital letters. He said well over 200 cars had honked or showed support within about two hours.
“This was a pre-planned event before the events (Thursday) and not staged for the consumption of the community,” he said. “ ... It does come at a good time, though.”
Mr. Alston was pushing for all races to work together in addressing what troubles the city.
“I’m trying to bring a level of understanding that we have racial problems in this country, but the history of America is problem-solving,” he said. “We’ve proved that no problem can’t be solved through (community collaboration of all).”
When watching the video, Mr. Alston said he was “horrified because of the inhumanity I saw that was involved. What I saw was the respect you show a dog.”
Responding to media questions and stressing the need for all races to harmonize, Mr. Alston said, “I don’t hate everything white and don’t like everything black.”
Standing nearby was James Schott, who said he had seen the video and said, “It was messed up, especially with all the stuff going around the nation now.
“I’m thinking we’re going to have another incident like Baltimore if it keeps happening. Something like that will happen if it keeps up.”
Taking solace in her community’s response to the video was Rita Paige, pastor at Star Hill AME Church.
“I was totally disappointed that the video was released yesterday,” she said. “The timing was bad. We’re trying to build trust with the city and the community.
“Now that it has been released, the community is to be commended for remaining calm and peaceful during this time. We’re sending a message to the world that peace is the best way.”
Concurring on the positive response was Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce President Judy Diogo, who saluted Mayor Robin Christiansen and police for their forward thinking.
“The city has been very expeditious and proactive in handling this,” she said.
Tainting the city?
Mr. Zimmerman was disappointed that an incident like this could taint the community.
“It’s just a shame that there a lot of good people out there but a few bad ones on both sides can ruin things for the other 95 percent,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
Deli manager Mike Horvath watched the video and took a similar approach as Mr. Zimmerman.
“From the little I saw, it may have been a little excessive, but I don’t know what went on before it,” he said.
Florist shop owner Jerry Cane said he heard from a customer earlier in the week that police were giving a heads-up that there might be a riot coming. He hasn’t heard much banter about the incident since, he said.
Dover hair stylist/business owner Pam Yerger watched the video and had a mixed response. Ms. Yerger said members of her family have been involved in police work, but also said she’s been harassed and treated rudely by Dover police during a traffic stop.
Regarding the encounter between Mr. Dickerson and Cpl. Webster, Ms. Yerger said, “I don’t think (Dickerson) should have been running and putting himself in that position to begin with ... and the cop could have handled his anger a little better than he did.”