DOVER — In the wake of an indictment against a Dover police officer Monday, city and community leaders gathered at City Hall Tuesday to urge calm and answer questions about the alleged 2013 assault.
Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV is accused of felony second-degree assault. According to Dover police, he allegedly kicked a man during an arrest made on Aug. 24, 2013. A lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware claims he broke the man’s jaw.
Cpl. Webster was investigated by the department as well as state and federal officials. A Kent County grand jury decided in March 2014 not to indict him. He returned to work in June.
On Monday, another Kent County grand jury met and returned an indictment. Cpl. Webster immediately was put on leave without pay when the indictment was returned on Monday, pending the outcome of the case, according to Dover Police.
At the news conference Tuesday, several black officials prominent in the community provided their perspective.
“One of the things that we’re here for today is to one, discuss the war being waged in and on the black community,” said La Mar Gunn, president of the NAACP of Central Delaware. “Two, to discuss the egregious actions of one police officer who swore an oath to protect and serve all — not a privileged few, but all the citizens of Dover. And three, the increased accountability we all share as leaders of the community.”
Citing the recent protests-turned-riots in Baltimore, Mr. Gunn called for citizens to respond appropriately. Local black leaders were working to encourage residents to properly channel their outrage and would continue to do so, he
“In times of conflict, let’s learn to rationalize with our heads before we react with our hands,” said Bishop Carlos Cannon, pastor of Power in Praise Ministries Inc. in Harrington. “Channel the same effort that once led you down destructive, unproductive and unfruitful paths toward new activities, new opportunities and a brighter future.”
Several people said they believed a peaceful response in Dover could serve as a model to people around the country.
Speakers praised the Attorney General’s office for pursuing the case again and getting an indictment while noting the process is only beginning.
“While this is an encouraging first step, it’s just that, it’s just a first step,” said Anthony Wallace, pastor at Crossroad Christian Church in Dover.
“I’m proud of Dover,” said Councilman-elect Roy Sudler Jr.
Mr. Sudler, who will represent the Fourth District when he is sworn in Monday, said when contacted Tuesday that he supports the city’s decision to take a stand on the issue.
“That behavior is unacceptable,” he said. “Everyone is standing up for what’s right to let people know that this will not be tolerated.”
Councilman David Anderson, who also represents the Fourth District, shared the sentiment.
“Yesterday’s indictment is justice delayed, but justice served,” he said. “It’s a shame that one bad decision by good people can ruin lives, but we all must be accountable for our actions.
“It is because we have the highest respect for our police that we demand high standards of conduct. Now we need to let the judicial system work in an orderly fashion. We also need to press for reforms in state law to allow cities to enforce their own standards of behavior.”
Mr. Anderson also praised former Dover Police Chief James Hosfelt and current Police Chief Paul M. Bernat.
“The police leadership acted courageously and retains the trust and support of the community,” Mr. Anderson said,
“Dover has a tremendous community police force dedicated to the highest standards of service.”
Mr. Hosfelt, who retired from Dover Police in 2014, won election last month to represent the First District.
He, too, will be sworn in Monday. Contacted Tuesday, he declined to comment on the indictment.
Mr. Anderson said the indictment will allow everyone to come together to move forward.
“It is all of our responsibility to make sure our community is safe, to make sure it is a place we want to raise our families,” Mr. Anderson said. “We are pleased to stand with the mayor and community leaders in the quest for peace, unity, and justice.”
“I’m going to trust in the system,” Mr. Sudler said. “I just pray they make the right decision the second time around.”
Mr. Gunn said he wants to see Cpl. Webster terminated. According to Mayor Robin Christiansen, it is Dover Police Department policy to fire officers convicted of crimes.
Questioning the 2014 decision not to return an indictment, Mr. Wallace called for a review of grand jury procedures.
He said black leaders also were seeking fewer restrictions on the Dover police chief’s ability to hire and fire officers.
Speakers at Tuesday’s press conference stressed on multiple occasions they respect the Dover Police Department and believe most officers do act responsibly.
Afterward, Mr. Gunn and Mayor Christiansen took questions from reporters.
They declined to comment on several matters, citing the fact the city is embroiled in a lawsuit with the alleged victim and the ACLU.
A police dashcam video exists of the alleged incident, although because it is currently evidence, the mayor opted not to provide details on it or whether he had seen it. Mr. Gunn said later he and several leaders had seen the video.
Calling it “horrific,” he echoed comments made during the news conference in urging Doverites to react positively and not let the incident divide the city.
He said while he thinks the video should be made public eventually, now is not the time. It will remain private while the criminal case is ongoing.
Mayor Christiansen said after he learned of the indictment Monday, he informed city council officials in an emergency meeting that evening. He does not know when the lawsuit from the ACLU will be settled, he said. He took care to note the alleged incident occurred before his mayoral tenure.
Local leaders are trying to arrange a peaceful protest.
“Please know that we are unified and in earnest regarding these particulars, and we will not relent until they are accomplished,” Mr. Wallace said. “Behind me and all over this city there are quorum of extraordinary wisdom, experience, care and concern.
“This is a city where all lives matter. I want to say that again: this is a city where all lives matter. Therefore, we will not harm our city, we will not damage our city, we will not loot, pillage or burn our city.
“On the contrary, we will love our city and care for all of its citizens.”