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Elected official plans litigation if General Assembly does not change policing laws

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Sophia Schmidt
/
Delaware Public Media

Civil rights advocates want changes to state laws governing when police are justified in using force against civilians and how they’re investigated afterward.

A state task force is working on proposals for policing reform—but critics say it’s moving too slow. Now a New Castle County Councilman is planning a different approach.

Councilman Jea Street says if the General Assembly does not repeal the use of force statute and so-called Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, he’ll challenge them in court. 

“I have every confidence that there’s a constitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and I think over time, they will be repealed,” he said. “So the General Assembly’s at a point now where we do it the easy way or the hard way.”

Street resigned as co-chair of the Public Safety Committee last week over the handling of a fatal police shooting earlier this year. 

The two county police officers who shot and killed Lymond Moses in Wilmington in January are on paid leave. Street says he thinks they violated department policy by shooting at a moving vehicle that did not appear to be being used as a deadly weapon, and should be fired. 

The state’s use of force statute has not seen any police officer charged for shooting a civilian since at least 2005. Street says the law is unconstitutional “because it subjects everybody else—it subjects civilians—to undue harm and force, and provides a layer of protection [to police] when it’s imposed.” 

The Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) governs internal investigations into police conduct and shields them from public view. Kimeu Boynton, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Delaware State University, told Delaware Public Media last June that LEOBOR gives officers more rights when under investigation than civilian suspects have. 

“When [police] are accused of some type of misconduct, they are given the opportunity to know what the complaint is, who’s making the complaint in some cases,” Boynton said. “They are given the opportunity to schedule a time and a place in some cases for the interrogation. They can have a union rep or other representative or attorney with them. Whereas you or I am not going to be able to say, ‘I’ll come down next Wednesday for questioning in my murder case, I’m busy until then.’”

The state Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force is currently looking to make recommendations around policing reform to the General Assembly. But some advocates on the group’s subcommittees complain it isn’t working fast enough. The full task force meets April 29th to consider recommendations from its subcommittees.   

Street and other civil rights and education advocates recently secured changes to the state’s education funding through a multi-year lawsuit.

Street says he’d look to work with partners including the NAACP on an equal protection and policing lawsuit—and would seek class-action status.

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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