A police dashcam video released Thursday shows a black suspect being kicked in the face by a white police officer who was charged this week with assault.
The video, recorded in August 2013, was released by Dover police after a federal judge ruled last week that it was no longer considered confidential. The judge's ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the suspect by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Recorded by another officer's dashboard camera, the video shows Dover Cpl. Thomas Webster IV kicking Lateef Dickerson after Dickerson gets down on his hands and knees in response to commands to get on the ground.
Dickerson, 30, was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw, police said in a news release Monday after Webster was charged.
Webster, 41, was arrested Monday and placed on unpaid leave after a grand jury indicted him for second-degree assault. A previous grand jury declined to indict Webster in March 2014, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, after reviewing the case, found no violation of Dickerson's civil rights.
The ACLU subsequently sued Dover police on Dickerson's behalf.
“We believe that the video demonstrates the need for large-scale reform of the Dover Police Department, specifically improvements to their use of force and internal affairs practices, and supervision of their officers,” said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware. “The people of Dover have a right to know about this incident and deserve a dialogue with law enforcement about how they can create a safe and equitable Dover community for all.”
Webster and a second officer encountered Dickerson while responding to a fight at a local service station possibly involving someone with a gun. Court records show that Dickerson has a long criminal history. He was arrested by Dover police last July after a traffic stop for expired tags and was charged with DUI and several weapons charges, including possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, carrying a concealed deadly weapon and receiving a stolen firearm.
Webster's attorney, James Liguori, said once the dashcam video from Webster's own patrol car and audio from the dispatch center come out, “everybody's going to be satisfied that no crime was committed… They've only seen half the movie.”
The president of the Central Delaware Branch of the NAACP criticized the police department's decision to release the video, saying he feared it could lead to unrest before his group has had a chance to meet with members of the community.
“This premature release I don't believe sends the right message, and it places unnecessary risk on members of the community,” said La Mar Gunn.
Gunn said the release of the video was an attempt by police to “control the narrative.”
Police said they had not received any tangible threats of violence, but that they had notified store owners and local schools that the video was being released.
“This is just us being pre-emptive... It's obviously a concern with the lawlessness that we've seen across the country,” said Lt. Jason Pires, the police department's patrol unit commander.
Mayor Robin Christiansen said at a hastily arranged news conference that the city will honor the First Amendment rights of citizens to protest.
“But I must assure the members of our community that lawlessness and violence will not be tolerated,” he said.
Webster was placed on paid leave in November 2013 pending an internal investigation and a review of the case by then-Attorney General Beau Biden's office, which took the case to a grand jury but failed to get an indictment against Webster.
Police have said they “acted accordingly” after an internal investigation found that Webster's action did not comply with department policy, and he returned to patrol duty in June 2014.
Attorney General Matt Denn, who took office in January, reviewed the case last week and instructed prosecutors to present it again to a grand jury.