A Delaware police officer indicted and arrested on a assault charge in May, escaped conviction following a jury trial on Tuesday, despite damning dash-cam footage showing him kick a complying suspect in the face.
Dover police Cpl. Thomas Webster was charged with second-degree assault, a felony, for an incident that occurred on Aug. 24, 2013, in which he responded to a call about a fight at a Hess gas station.
Investigators said Webster approached 29-year-old Lateef Dickerson, who matched the description of one of the suspects involved, and attempted to take him into custody while another officer held him at gunpoint.
The dash-cam video recorded from the scene shows Webster kick Dickerson in the back of the legs before telling him to get on the ground as he surrenders with his hands up.
As Dickerson continues to comply and crouches down, the officer can be seen kicking him in the face, breaking his jaw and causing facial lacerations to his lip, nose, and forehead.
Afterward, Dickerson was put in handcuffs, taken into custody, and later treated at a hospital for his injuries.
Following the incident, the Dover Police Department placed Webster on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
Watch the raw footage:
In March 2014, the Delaware Attorney General’s Office reviewed the case and found that there was “not a civil rights violation.” A grand jury choose not to indict, and in June 2014, Webster was allowed to return to full duty.
When the Dover Police Department completed its own investigation in May however, it found that Webster’s actions in the incident were “outside department policy” and decided to indict him on second-degree assault.
Webster turned himself in and was released on $5,000 bond before being placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the case – which came on Tuesday when a 12-member Superior Court jury handed down a verdict of not guilty following five days of testimony.
During the proceedings, Webster testified that Dickerson was slow to comply with his commands to get on the ground, and maintained that he was scared for the safety of himself and other officers because they had been erroneously told that the man was armed with a gun.
He said he was aiming to kick Dickerson in the upper body but kicked him in the face by mistake – a claim not mentioned in original police reports from the incident, prosecutors said.
Webster’s attorney, James Liguori, argued that the officers use of force was justified and said, “the fact of the matter is when you [break the video] down into milliseconds, you could see the gentlemen moving his hands up and down. We all know Tom was in fear.”
In September 2014, the ACLU filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Dickerson asking for compensatory damages and attorney fees. On Friday, ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Kathleen MacRae said the civil suit has been “resolved,” but city officials have yet to release the details of the judgement.
“This sets us back clearly. I would just challenge the people to continue to have hope,” Delaware central branch president of the NAACP, La Mar Gunn said regarding Tuesday’s verdict. “We’re not going to stop fighting… there are people here who need justice to work [and] this sends the wrong message.”