A citizen has started a petition to demand repeal or reform of the Delaware State laws shielding police misconduct and disciplinary records from the public.
The petition was started by Kimberly Eagle, a Delaware citizen who is demanding a repeal or reform of the Delaware State laws that shields police misconduct and disciplinary records from the public.
New York and Delaware are the only states that mandate secrecy of these files unless a judge orders them released. In response to the global protests following the death of George Floyd, New York lawmakers will be convening to overhaul this law during the week of Monday, June 8th – Delaware should be doing the same., Eagle said in her Change.org petition.
“Public access to records could have perhaps prevented the death of 16 year old Anton Black, who died in September 2018 during an arrest led by former Dover, DE police officer Thomas Webster IV.”, Eagle said. “This is the same officer who can be seen in 2013 police car dash cam footage on YouTube, kicking an unarmed suspect in the face (breaking his jaw) as they were complying with Webster’s request to get on the ground. Webster was acquitted of assault charges in 2015 and banned from ever again seeking employment in Dover, DE the following year.”
Eagle reflects on a recent officer and events involving the officer. “In February 2018, Webster was hired by the Greensboro, MD police despite objections from many of the town’s black residents due to the incident in 2013. Not until February 2019 did the state of Maryland learn of the 29 Use of Force reports generated by Webster throughout his decade on the Dover police force. In three of the incidents, Webster struck people he had arrested.”
“Repeal or amend state and local laws that shield police misconduct disciplinary records from the public.”
After investigating Anton Black’s death, the Chief Medical Examiner stated it was “likely that the stress of his struggle (including 43 blunt trauma wounds) contributed to his death” though still ruled the death “Accidental.”, Eagle explains.
“This case is a perfect example of why police oversight is necessary. Lack of transparency impedes the ability to identify and stop patterns of police misconduct. In this case, allowing for external scrutiny of records might have prevented this pattern from continuing.”
In another incident, Eagle says, “Similarly, Delaware must show the public that it holds officers accountable for their conduct. As another example, the public could have used disciplinary records to demand that the Wilmington Police fire Cpl. Michael D. Spencer several years before he resigned in 2019; after a decade-long pattern of misconduct that began his first year on the job.”
“Spencer was reprimanded for, but never faced any real consequences from, DUIs, vehicle collisions while intoxicated, domestic disputes, failing to properly investigate incidents, failing to correctly report discharge of a Taser, missed shifts due to hangovers, sexual assault, public nudity, breaking and entering, and harassing a female colleague.”, Eagle said.
“This case highlights the urgent need of the public to: (1) be allowed to raise questions about police accountability, (2) scrutinize the strength of the internal affairs system that is responsible for discipline and determining who is allowed to continue work as a law enforcement officer, and (3) confirm that Delaware law enforcement officers are being held to the same standards as ordinary citizens.”, Eagle said.
“If Spencer had been an ordinary citizen, these incidents obviously would have been handled very differently. Changes to broken checks and balances in terms of extinguishing a pattern like his can only happen by making police misconduct and disciplinary records public.”, Eagle said
Also, general problems with police oversight are affecting towns, cities, counties and states across the country. Delaware should show full support for federal police reform. Discussion has begun on multiple proposals for consideration in the House of Representatives as well as the Senate. As these continue to develop, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has released a list of clear, defined steps to take and reform policing at a national level. Included in this list is the action we are asking you to take for the state of Delaware.