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Groups take issue with state's police self-defense statute

Anne Hoffman
Delaware Public Media

Delaware ACLU and other civil rights groups say state law makes it too easy for officers to use deadly force while facing no consequences.



ACLU Delaware joined others in decrying the decision not to charge anyone in the shooting death of wheelchair bound Jeremy McDole by Wilmington police officers last year.


A report released by the state Attorney General’s Office cleared three of the four officers involved, but came close to charging one.


The report says Sr. Cpl. Joseph Dellose immediately shot at McDole when he arrived on scene, which it called “extraordinarily

poor police work that endangered both the public and his fellow officers.”


“When I say somebody needs to be held accountable, I think the individual officer needs to be held accountable through the department’s disciplinary policies and procedures and from the department itself – possibly even discharged,” said Kathleen MacRae, executive director of ACLU Delaware.


The AG’s office declined to file charges because an officer in Delaware only needs to “sincerely believe” lethal force is necessary to use it.

MacRae says state lawmakers need to make it harder for police to claim self-defense when they use deadly force, otherwise prosecutors' hands are tied.


“Delaware law is too loose and open and [the Attorney General’s office] concluded that they would not be able to get an indictment and so they didn’t bring the charges forward.”

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams, a former city cop himself, has defended the force's actions. Spokeswoman Alexandra Coppadge cited the department's longtime national certification, saying, " signifies WPD’s commitment to professional excellence in the development of its policies, procedures and training."
A group of black elected officials and activists sent a letter to the federal Department of Justice earlier this week, calling for a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Any effort to change Delaware's legal threshold for self-defense for law enforcement is sure to meet heavy resistance from union lobbying groups and lawmakers who were former policemen themselves.

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