Delaware’s Attorney General wants to move on from the night of June 9 when twenty non-violent protesters were arrested near Camden. Some protesters and advocates disagree.
“We just want peace and understanding, and prosecution’s not going to get us there,” said Attorney General Kathy Jennings in an interview Wednesday. “What’s going to get us there is the activists sitting down at the table with police officers up and down our state and our office as well and having these really difficult discussions about, what do we need to change.”
DOJ also decided not to investigate the Delaware State Police and Dover Police Department, despite allegations by protesters that they used unnecessary force. Jennings said after the review of video evidence and police reports, she saw no reason to charge the police criminally.
“I think that we can come to common ground on this,” said Jennings. “I just don’t believe that another round of criminal investigation and prosecution of civil rights activists is the way to go,” she said. “If either side has a quarrel with that, then I’m sorry— but it’s the right thing to do.”
Desire’e Aurillo, one of the protesters arrested, thinks the police should be investigated. She said Wednesday a Dover officer picked her up and “slammed” her onto the asphalt after she asked why others were being arrested. She said she was detained for roughly 12 hours.
“They need to be held accountable, because this is exactly why we’re protesting,” she said. “This is exactly why people are being killed. What if next time this happens, it escalates to something more?”
Aurillo, who has started a petition pushing for regular trauma debriefings for police, rejected the idea that protesters and police should find a “common ground” and move on.
“Common ground has to be accountability,” she said. “Common ground can’t just be, it happened— let’s pretend it didn’t … This is bigger than Dover, this is bigger than Delaware. This is a nationwide issue that’s been an issue for 400 years.”
Dover-area organizer David Haye, who was not arrested June 9, said Wednesday morning he found it difficult to move on when unanswered questions— such as why protesters were arrested in the first place, who made that decision, and why police are not being investigated— remain.
DOJ learned from interviews and police reports that the arrests began after two protesters refused to stop blocking the path of a Dover police patrol vehicle on Route 13. Police said several protesters then began running toward officers and trying to prevent the arrest of other protesters.
“Due to the overwhelming possibility of injury and violence to everyone,” a police report read, an officer used his radio to indicate an officer in trouble— after which several more arrests were made. DOJ has compiled police and citizen videos of the incident on its website. They show armed and armored police officers wrestling protesters to the ground.
“There were peaceful protesters who unfortunately were detained,” said Jennings. “There were also people who went running to a scene and at least appeared, to the police, to have placed everyone in danger.”
ACLU of Delaware Executive Director Mike Brickner saw the decision not to investigate the police as “a mistake” that will further undermine public trust in the accountability of law enforcement.
“We felt that the actions that evening were very concerning and that officers really should be held to a higher standard of de-escalating situations,” he said.
Brickner added in the weeks since the arrests, the ACLU of Delaware has heard “troubling” accounts by protesters about potential overuse of force by police that night.
“As we’re talking about increased accountability and transparency with law enforcement officers right now nationally and in the State of Delaware, investigating these situations is something we should be doing when there is questionable action,” said Brickner.
Delaware State Police spokesperson Sgt. Darren Lester said the arrests were handled according to state law and under the AG’s guidance — and that the agency is “disappointed” in her decision to drop the charges against protesters.
“Delaware State Troopers have exemplified the high standards of our Division at numerous protests in recent weeks and have demonstrated professionalism and patience, including on the night of June 9,” Lester wrote in an email. “Recognizing there is still work to be done, the path forward will continue to include listening, building and maintaining mutual trust and respect. We can maintain safe communities only when we work collaboratively with everyone.”
Dover Police Department spokesperson M/Cpl. Mark Hoffman said Dover police chief Thomas Johnson met with Jennings Tuesday and agreed moving forward is in the best interest of the community.
“We look forward to working with government leaders and community stakeholders to improve our community,” Hoffman wrote in an email.