Investigators have begun interviewing three Rehoboth Beach Police officers in a use-of-force investigation stemming from an incident involving police use of a Taser.
Chief Keith Banks said Dover Police Department officials interviewed corporals Robert Tyler Whitman and Curtis Sauve and Sgt. Victor Letonoff about their role in an April 7 Taser incident that was caught on video. Whitman, Sauve and Letonoff were all seen entering the station April 19 to talk to investigators.
Whitman got in some hot water in February 2009 when the Family Court of Delaware served him a protection of abuse order, filed by Whitman's wife, prohibiting him from having a firearm. Whitman was forced to relinquish his firearms and was suspended from the force without pay until the situation was resolved.
City Manager Greg Ferrese, as the head of city personnel, gave Whitman the option of taking vacation or comp time instead of a suspension, but Whitman chose not to do so.
The order was dropped after 10 days, and Whitman was restored to duty. He appealed his suspension to the city commissioners in order to be paid the 56 hours he missed. The city commissioners first declined to hear the case, saying the matter was a complaint and not disciplinary.
The union then filed an unfair labor practice action with the state Public Employment Relations Board, which heard the case in April 2010. In June 2010, the board remanded the matter back to the city commissioners for a full evidentiary hearing that was held in January 2011.
After a nearly three-hour hearing, the commissioners unanimously voted to table the matter to a future meeting and move to an executive session. They later voted to deny Whitman’s appeal. The union appealed to Delaware Superior Court, where Judge E. Scott Bradley ruled in Whitman’s favor and he was paid his suspension time. The settlement amount was not listed among court documents.
Rehoboth officers found themselves in the center of controversy after video of Whitman tasering and kicking Jeremy Anderson went viral on YouTube.
According to Sauve’s affidavit of probable cause, he and Whitman arrived at the Crosswinds Hotel at 3:45 p.m. Sauve said he encountered Anderson sitting on a bench in front of the hotel. Sauve and Whitman arrived separately and approached Anderson from opposite sides, prompting Anderson to begin walking away from Whitman. Sauve said he introduced himself to Anderson and told him to stop. Anderson continued walking away; Sauve said he again told Anderson to stop and grabbed Anderson’s left arm.
Sauve said Anderson swore at him and turned with a clenched fist. He said he thought Anderson was attempting to punch him and moved out of the way, grabbing Anderson’s left arm to cuff him. Sauve said Anderson refused to give him his other hand and continued to struggle.
Whitman arrived on the scene, Sauve said, just as Sauve and Anderson went to the ground with Anderson still struggling. Anderson eventually got free of Sauve and stood up, Sauve said. Whitman then warned Anderson to stay on the ground or he would be tased.
At this point, the infamous video, shot by Anderson’s pregnant wife, Candice Brubaker, and later uploaded to YouTube, begins. Whitman tells Anderson to put his hands behind his back before shooting Anderson with the Taser.
Anderson managed to pull one of the Taser probes out of his chest, and continued to struggle with Sauve and Whitman as they tried to handcuff him. On the ground, Anderson turned his head toward Whitman’s leg, which Sauve said was an attempt to bite Whitman, who reacted by kicking at Anderson’s head. Letonoff arrived at that point and assisted in putting Anderson in handcuffs.
Anderson later pleaded guilty in Delaware Court of Common Pleas to resisting arrest, offensive touching of a police officer and menacing. Whitman was placed on administrative leave, which Banks said would last until the investigation concludes, which could be two to three weeks. Letonoff and Sauve remain on duty.
General Teamsters Local Union 326, the New Castle-based union that represents the department, said it has no comment until the investigation is complete.
Anderson, 34, a native of Mechanicsburg, Pa., did not respond to requests for comment. Anderson and Brubaker did give an interview with a Philadelphia NBC affiliate, which they also uploaded to YouTube, where they said they were on vacation in Rehoboth. The couple asked for an apology from the department and that Whitman be fired.
According to a statement from Crosswinds management, however, Anderson came into the office asking for a key to his girlfriend’s room. He told the clerk that his name was not on the room but that his girlfriend’s name was. The clerk told him a key could not be provided to anyone not listed as a guest. Anderson became irate and began swearing at the hotel staff, prompting them to call the police.
Banks said investigators, using the police reports, will establish a timeline, although he reiterated the main issue was the use of force.
“We want to make sure it was handled correctly. If we find it was handled incorrectly or needs improvement, we can do that. I can assure the public we will do a thorough, complete investigation,” he said.