Wilmington police officer indicted for two alleged assaults and trying to cover them up

Police officers patrol Market Street in Wilmington

Police officers patrol Market Street in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Store surveillance video showing a Wilmington police officer slamming a man’s head against a plexiglass barrier in September has led to assault charges for that incident and another that occurred days earlier, when the officer allegedly used his baton to injure a suspect.

Former Patrolman Samuel Waters faces felony counts of perjury and tampering with public records, along with the misdemeanor charges of third-degree assault, official misconduct, and falsifying a business record. He faces 0 to 13 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The 27-year-old officer left the force in January.

The grand jury indictment said that the Wilmington police instructor on defensive tactics and use of force confirmed to prosecutors that Waters used a “disproportional” use of lethal force in both incidents.

Prosecutors and the public learned of the Sept. 21 episode at 3C’s Food Market in the Southbridge neighborhood after it was posted on social media days later and went viral. Waters, a three-year veteran of the force, was immediately put on administrative duties pending an internal review.

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Prosecutors also began investigating Waters’ actions at the store, leading them to another incident involving Waters. On Sept. 13, a domestic violence suspect was bent over the back of a police cruiser and about to be handcuffed, the indictment said. The suspect was not combative or violent, but Waters pressed his baton against the man’s neck and repeatedly applied downward force. The man suffered facial cuts and bruises from being pushed against the vehicle.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings said the evidence uncovered by her office’s Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust “shows a clear and disturbing pattern of violence and deception” by Waters.

“The defendant repeatedly abused a position of trust and authority and then subsequently lied about it. We don’t tolerate this kind of misconduct by anyone — let alone from someone who swore an oath to protect his community — and we will prosecute his crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”

Waters also faces a federal lawsuit brought by Dwayne Brown, the alleged victim from the store. Brown’s lawsuit also accused Waters of using the “N-word” during the episode. Brown, who is Black, also charged that Waters, who is white, has a history of “inappropriate behavior in dealing with other members of the Black community. He is widely known and feared as a bully.”

Prosecutors charged that Waters also did not activate his body camera, as required by city police, before entering the store and approaching Brown, and that he often failed to activate the camera. That inaction was part of one official misconduct count.

The felony counts stem from Waters’ written reports.

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In his warrant charging Brown with harassment, resisting arrest, breach of release, and possession of marijuana, Waters wrote that he “immediately recognized” Brown from “numerous law enforcement actions/shared intelligence from other officers,” the indictment said.

Waters later admitted he was not familiar with Brown, however, according to the indictment.

Waters wrote that he “was forced to escalate his control tactics in order to immediately secure [Brown] and stop him from reaching for his waistband,” where he had a small pocket knife, the indictment said.

He also wrote that Brown “stepped forward” after he grabbed him by the back, causing a “sudden loss of mobility/change in forward momentum” that led his face and chest to “make contact” with the plexiglass.

The indictment said that description “is inconsistent with the video surveillance, which depicts Waters pushing Brown’s “neck and head into the plexiglass window.”

Wilmington police spokesman David Karas, who had said in October that the video “is concerning,” would not comment on the indictment.

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