A man severely beaten two summers ago by a Dewey Beach police officer who falsely claimed the man had tried to strangle him is now suing the cop and the town in federal court.
Mark Taylor, whose nose was broken so badly that police said it will “not be properly aligned again,” claims that the police department in the popular Sussex County resort town has a culture of protecting former officer Gregory Lynch Jr. and other unidentified violent cops.
Lynch was sued two previous times for alleged excessive force, with the Dewey Beach Police Department settling one case for $175,000, the lawsuit said.
“Part of this case is they obviously had a policy, practice or custom of engaging in activities that would lead to the deprivation of people’s rights – that being excessive force by their officers,’’ Taylor’s attorney, Patrick C. Gallagher, told WHYY News.
Lynch attacked Taylor after he fell and hit his head while intoxicated in August 2019. In September, Lynch pleaded guilty to felony perjury and misdemeanor assault of Taylor. He was stripped of his police certification and sentenced to one year of “intensive” probation.
Taylor says he also was deprived of his constitutional rights while subjected to excessive force, assault, battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and the negligence of other officers who failed to intervene. He seeks unspecified damages.
Gregory A. Morris, who represents Lynch, has sought to dismiss the case that was filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington. Morris said he had no comment at this stage of the proceedings.
Emily Silverstein, who represents the town and police chief Samuel Mackert III, said her firm is “actively investigating this matter and Mr. Taylor’s claims and we don’t have any further comment at this time. We’re going to let it play out in the court.”
Blood spurted from victim’s face onto cops’ uniforms
Dewey Beach, which has 350 full-time residents on a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Rehoboth Bay, is a popular vacation spot known for its bars, restaurants, and shops. The population swells to several thousand people on summer weekends.
Taylor, 28, had left the Bottle & Cork nightclub with friends when he fell and hit his head on a road sign. Lynch, one of the officers who responded to the 911 call, attacked Taylor while he was on a stretcher after Taylor didn’t immediately comply with one of his orders. Lynch punched Taylor several times, giving him a concussion, two black eyes, multiple neck bruises and facial cuts.
The attack was so violent that blood spurted from Taylor’s face onto other officers’ uniforms, police wrote in Lynch’s arrest affidavit.
Taylor was initially charged with felony strangulation and offensive touching and incarcerated for two days after Lynch claimed in an arrest warrant that he “strangled, spit at and assaulted” Lynch.
When discussing the attack later with a fellow officer, Lynch said: “That’s what I do when they don’t comply – I make them felons,’’ according to Attorney General Kathy Jennings’ office.
Officers at the scene later told an investigator from Jennings’ office that “they did not feel that the assault was justified.”
A subsequent investigation by Jennings’ Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust led to the charges against Taylor being dropped and Lynch being indicted in November 2019. Both men are white.
Lawsuit says chief tolerated Lynch’s rogue acts
Taylor’s lawsuit also cited two previous lawsuits charging Lynch with excessive force:
- In June 2011, a man in his 60s claimed he left a bar on a bicycle when Lynch “swerved” in front of him, threw him to the ground and used his foot to grind his “head and his face into the pavement and gravel.” The man said he was shoved into a police van and taken to the station, where Lynch told him he would be hauled to prison if he did not “sign off” on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges. The man did sign off and Lynch allegedly responded by gloating that the episode “would teach him not to ‘talk back’ to a police officer.” The case was settled for $175,000, Taylor’s lawsuit said.
- In July 2014, a woman said Lynch came to her vacation home, where her family had received a ticket for a noise violation the previous night. The woman claimed Lynch demanded to see the identification of herself and her son, and she questioned why he wanted them again. Instead, she claimed Lynch grabbed and threw her to the ground, then arrested her. At the station, he allegedly told another officer, ‘You should have seen the look on that bitch’s face when I threw her down.” The charges against the woman were later dropped. Her lawsuit was later dismissed and Taylor’s lawsuit said details were unavailable.
Taylor’s lawsuit said the town and Mackert “particularly condoned the use of excessive force, abuse of process, and unlawful arrest/detention” by Lynch because the two other allegations occurred years earlier and he “was still employed by the town” when he attacked Taylor.
The lawsuit also details four other lawsuits against unnamed Dewey Beach officers for excessive force since 2006.
Taylor’s lawsuit also claims Mackert “enabled” Lynch because the chief has a “close relationship” with Lynch’s father.
In her response to the lawsuit, Silverstein flatly “denied” this claim.
The lawsuit also highlights other concerns about Lynch, claiming he has a narcissistic and manipulative personality, and that he harbors racist and homophobic views as demonstrated by postings made online and decorations on his vehicle.
The lawsuit did not provide any alleged details to support those claims.
The lawsuit also cited an analysis of the Dewey Beach Police Department that was completed less than six weeks before Taylor was attacked to support its claims that the town is liable for his injuries.
That report by a retired Delaware state police captain noted that Dewey Beach has a poorly staffed police department whose officers have low morale. The full-time force of eight officers is supplemented by seasonal officers during the warmer months.
The report also noted that the department’s performance evaluation form includes the phrase “does not shy away from physical confrontation” and should be removed.
“During litigation, this could particularly in today’s environment be misconstrued as the Police Department condoning “never backing down” or the “winning at any cost” mentality that many citizens believe the police possess today.”
The lawsuit noted that the report said that ‘It appears there is a desire to not engage in stricter discipline or corrective action” within the force. “This can become a concern for obvious reasons because, circumventing the policies and or procedures in place may become the norm and part of the corporate culture of the organization if left unchecked.”
Neither Mackert nor other Dewey police officials respond to a request for comment on the claims made in the lawsuit or the force’s policies, written or unwritten.