DOVER — A Dover Police Department corporal was indicted on a felony second-degree assault charge Monday by a Kent County grand jury, the Delaware Department of Justice confirmed late in the afternoon.
A Department of Justice spokesman said the indictment against Cpl. Thomas W. Webster IV was returned after evidence was presented to the grand jury.
The indictment apparently stems from an alleged incident in August 2013 involving Lateef Dickerson. A previous grand jury did not indict Cpl. Webster after presented evidence from the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice said it had no further comment at this time.
“Tom Webster and his family are extremely disappointed this matter was again presented to a Kent County grand jury since a previous grand jury refused to indict Tom,” said attorney Jim Liguori, who is representing Mr. Webster, in a prepared statement. “The evidence presented before the first grand jury and the second grand jury hasn’t changed.
“The atmosphere has changed. The defendant Lateef Dickerson is presently suing Tom Webster, the city of Dover and the Dover Police Department in federal court.”
On Monday night, Dover City Council held an emergency closed meeting.
After the meeting, members of council would not comment.
“The actions that were taken today came from the attorney general’s office after they reviewed the information and evidence that was brought forward,” said Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen.
The mayor said a statement on the indictment would be released Tuesday morning.
The Dover Police Department issued a news release just after 7 p.m., and said after being notified of the indictment, Cpl. Webster was placed immediately on leave without pay pending the outcome of the case.
Cpl. Webster turned himself in, police said, and was presented in Superior Court and released on a $5,000 unsecured bond.
The alleged incident was captured on video by a Dover Police Department in-car camera system, authorities said in a news release.
Mr. Liguori questioned the timing of presenting the “ancient” matter to a grand jury as parties are in settlement talks regarding the federal lawsuit and “is awful suspect as to the motives behind this indictment.”
Mr. Webster is innocent of the allegation and not guilty of any criminal offense, Mr. Liguori said.
“We look forward to an impartial Kent County jury acquitting him,” Mr. Liguori said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware currently is suing Cpl. Webster and the city of Dover in U.S. District Court in Wilmington on behalf of Mr. Dickerson after an alleged incident that led to a broken jaw and facial lacerations to Mr. Dickerson’s lip, nose, and forehead, the ACLU said.
According to Dover Police in a news release, Cpl. Webster was placed on paid administrative leave in November 2013 as an internal investigation and Attorney General’s office review of the case proceeded.
In March 2014, the AG’s office took the case to a grand jury, and an indictment was not returned, police said.
The matter also was reviewed by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, and no finding of a civil rights violation was found, Dover Police said.
“After both agencies conducted their separate investigations, the Dover Police Department completed the internal investigation on Webster finding that his actions regarding this incident were outside of Dover Police Department Police and acted accordingly,” the Dover Police news release stated.
Dover Police would not comment on any possible disciplinary actions taken.
Authorities said Cpl. Webster returned to full duty in June 2014 and was reassigned to the patrol division.
Local NAACP responds
Informed of the indictment early Monday night, NAACP of Central Delaware President La Mar Gunn said the charge could be a positive step to “bridging the gap that exists in the Dover community regarding race relations in the city and the perception among the African-American community regarding interactions with police.”
Mr. Gunn urged a measured response to the indictment as the process works itself out in the legal system.
NAACP of Central Delaware will hold a press conference Tuesday to address issues, and has a rally planned for later in the week.
The indictment will change the focus of the upcoming rally, Mr. Gunn said, since the original thought was to push for more pressure to address a possible charge, which came with the grand jury’s decision on Monday.
“It could be easy to point the finger, but it’s time for black, white, brown and red to band together to address the callous disregard for human rights,” Mr. Gunn said.
Mr. Gunn pushed for a peaceful response to the matter that brings the city of Dover together, not torn apart.
“Instead of being divided, it’s time we turn the page together,” Mr. Gunn said.
“This is not a black-white issue, it’s a Dover issue. We all want the same thing, which is to live here in peace and be safe.”
Reaching that point requires a belief in the current city police and city council administration, Mr. Gunn said.
“I subscribe to the thought that we need to support our police force and our city officials,” he said.
“We’re excited about the new leadership at Dover PD and city council and believe Dover has a great future as long as we work together and set petty differences aside.”
First-year police chief Paul Bernat and second-in-charge Maj. Marvin Mailey were cited by the NAACP of Central Delaware president as forward thinkers aimed at improving city relations, along with recently elected Mayor Robin Christiansen.
“I’m excited about what they’ve shown as far as the commitment for improving Dover for all people, for making it a safer city where all can thrive,” Mr. Gunn said.”
Attempts to reach ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae were not immediately successful.
In a Sept. 29, 2014, news release regarding a lawsuit filed against Cpl. Webster and the city of Dover, ACLU of Delaware alleged that Mr. Dickerson’s constitutional rights were violated regarding freedom from “unreasonable, excessive and unjustified use of force by the police,” according to ACLU of Delaware Legal Director Richard Morse.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed in September, alleges Cpl. Webster responded to a call at a Hess gas station on North DuPont Highway in Dover where Mr. Dickerson was involved in a minor disturbance, and walked away from the incident while crossing North DuPont Highway. The suit said Cpl. Webster repeatedly struck Mr. Dickerson and caused him to lose consciousness.
Dover PD’s statement
In a news release, Dover police said Cpl. Webster was called to the gas station for a fight in progress report in which one of the people involved was possibly armed with a gun.
“When Webster arrived at the complaint, he contacted a subject who matched the description of one of the people involved in the fight at the gas station, and attempted to take him into custody,” Dover Police said.
“Webster, along with another officer, had the subject at gun point, giving him verbal commands to get on the ground to which the subject eventually complied.
“As the subject was in the process of getting on the ground he was kicked in the head once by Webster rendering him unconscious. After this occurred the subject was placed in handcuffs and taken into custody.”
Mr. Dickerson was initially charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, theft under $1,500, third-degree conspiracy and third-degree assault. The Attorney General’s office dismissed all charges, authorities said.
Addressing the media Monday night, Lt. Jason Pires said since the incident officers have had multiple training sessions focused on the proper use of force and defensive tactics.
He also said a meeting was held earlier Monday — it ended around 6:45 to 7 p.m. — with dozens of officers.
“The chief felt it was necessary to discuss the news with the officers,” Lt. Pires said.
Staff writers Matt Bittle and Arshon Howard also contributed to this story.