Delaware police officer found not guilty of assault

 (photo courtesy Dover Police)

(photo courtesy Dover Police)

After three days of deliberations, a jury has found a Delaware cop not guilty of assaulting a black suspect.

On Tuesday, a Kent County jury found Dover officer Thomas Webster, who is white, not guilty of second and third-degree assault in his treatment of Lateef Dickerson, whom he kicked in the head in August 2013. 

“It was a thoughtful verdict,” said defense attorney James Liguori. “I hope we all can move on from this….It was a well fought fight.”

Webster, a 10-year police veteran was on his normal shift when a 911 call was made in reference to a large fight at a gas station off Route 13. The caller said the suspects fled, and that one had a weapon.

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The defense said when officers arrived at the scene Dickerson refused to follow orders and reached toward his waist as if attempting to pull out a weapon. They said Webster kicked the suspect in the head as a means to get him on the ground after he didn’t comply.

Dickerson suffered a dislocated jaw that required surgery. A complaint was filed following the incident, and investigations by the police department and the state took place over the next several months. An additional civil rights claim was dismissed.

During the trial Webster said he didn’t intend to kick Dickerson in the head and was aiming for his torso.

The prosecution used video footage taken from another officer’s dash cam to argue Dickerson was already on the ground when Webster kicked him. They argued Webster used unnecessary force causing a severe injury.

Prior to the trial Liguori asked that the case be dismissed, claiming evidence that would prove his client’s innocence was missing.

He said that because of the police department’s retention policy important video and audio recordings had been discarded.  

After the verdict was announced Tuesday, defense attorney Mark Denney said the prosecution team wouldn’t have done anything differently during the trial, and is pleased with the evidence they presented.

“We believe it was the right thing to do to try this case and take it to the people. We feel validated the jury took three days to deliberate and to consider the evidence in this case. We respect their final decision,” he said.

Meanwhile members of the African American community say they are shocked by the outcome of the trial.

“Clearly I was shocked. It sends us several decades backwards,” said La Mar Gunn, president of the Central Delaware NAACP. “However it teaches us that we must fight this at a different level and a different strategy.”

He said his organization will continue to try to improve police relations in Delaware. Gunn said he doesn’t believe demonstrations alone will help the African American community achieve full equality. 

“We’re not in this just to be out begging for things guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said. “We are now going to be demanding and we’re going to be laser focused and strategic in that effort.”

Fred Calhoun, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization is pleased with the verdict and said it shows Delaware residents’ trust in law enforcement. He said while each agency is different, Webster is likely to get his job back.

Denney said the state will make sure officers who abuse their power will be held accountable.

“I hope police officers will see that when the state feels they have broken the law we will take them to court,” he said. 

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