The Attorney General’s Office has ruled a Dewey Beach police officer was justified in shooting a Milford man in 2022, and no laws were broken.
The Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust determined that Officer Dylan Ebke reasonably believed that the use of deadly force upon Rodney Robinson was immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself and others; the 40-page report read: “For these reasons, the Department of Justice concludes the use of deadly force in this case does not constitute a criminal offense under the laws of the State of Delaware.”
In March 2022, Robinson, 21, was at the Starboard Restaurant and Bar where, the report states, he walked in with a handgun “tucked into the right waistband of his blue jeans.” While inside the Starboard, security footage shows Robinson displaying the handgun to a group of people. When he walked out of the Starboard about 1:15 a.m., March 19, a security guard notified Dewey Beach police officers, who tried to detain Robinson.
Robinson fled southbound along Route 1 with four officers in pursuit. Local cameras caught the foot pursuit on video. Dewey Police had no body cameras at the time of the incident. An officer involved had a body-worn GoPro, but it was not activated during the incident.
During the chase, the report states, Officer Ebke saw what he believed to be a firearm in Robinson’s waistband as Robinson got away.
About an hour later, the report states, Robinson returned to the Starboard, where a member of Starboard’s security saw him sitting near the outdoor beer cooler area with his head in his hands. Robinson said he was waiting for his ride; the employee went inside and called 911. Robinson then started banging on the front doors of the restaurant’s gift shop before entering a tent area. The witness said Robinson was pacing and talking to himself, and appeared “nervous and ansty,” the report states.
Dewey Beach police arrived and tried to stop Robinson, who refused and ran into a nearby alley. He was eventually blocked in by a fence. Police told him to stop and show his hands, the report states, but Robinson refused and they deployed a Taser. The Taser appeared to have no effect because only one probe wire hit Robinson’s left shoulder, the report states.
“Officer Ebke stated that Robinson then used his left hand to lift his sweatshirt and began reaching with his right hand toward a bulge in his right waistband,” the report states. “Officer Ebke further stated he believed the bulge was a firearm.”
At that point, the report states, Ebke fired one round from his departmental firearm toward Robinson, then took cover in a breezeway near Route 1.
Robinson tried to run out of the alley, but collapsed in the rear yard of a residence behind the Starboard. “Robinson had been struck by the single shot that Ebke fired,” the report states.
Upon locating Robinson, officers administered CPR and used an automated external defibrillator to try to revive him. Sussex County EMS personnel assumed lifesaving measures and transported Robinson to Beebe Healthcare, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
The medical examiner report states Robinson died from a gunshot wound to the chest, which had perforated the right lung and fractured the thoracic spine. A forensic firearm analysis states that a 9 mm Luger caliber Springfield Armory semiautomatic pistol was recovered near Robinson.
Police later learned that Robinson had pending criminal charges related to fleeing the Delaware State Police in a vehicle in March 2021.
The report includes interviews with four Dewey Beach police officers besides Ebke, and four civilian witnesses, including Robinson’s friend who drove him to the Starboard and saw Robinson’s handgun.
The report states that Officer Ebke was not negligent or reckless in forming his belief that force was necessary for the protection of self or others.
“Based upon the evidence available, we conclude that Officer Ebke reasonably felt in fear for his own life and the life of Officer [West] Rhodes when Robinson reached a fence line, was unaffected by the Taser, turned toward Officer Ebke, pulled up his sweatshirt and put his hand in his waistband where Ebke saw a bulge near where he previously saw the handle of a handgun,” the report states. “Further, the officers were aware from both their observations and the observations of several others [relayed to them] that Robinson was armed.”
Dewey Beach Police Department Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said Jan. 19 that Ebke was on paid administrative leave during the course of the investigation, and he will return to full active duty as soon as possible.
To view the full report, go to https://tinyurl.com/y3ykj4de.
The Starboard reacts
The following is a direct quote from The Starboard owner Steve “Monty” Montgomery:
“The Starboard has always been proactive with security measures. Ever since seeing on the news where there was a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando close to 10 years ago, we’ve set a standard on being proactive by having a local police officer on site busy weekend nights to deter any bad behavior and to protect our own employees and customers so all know we are a safe place which is very busy with people from all around.
“Another measure we take is one we learned from talking to our friends in Ocean City at Fager’s Island. We purchased – and use nightly – a scanner system which scans the ID for everyone who enters our front doors. It also takes a current photo of that individual as they enter. The purpose of this is for us to identify individuals who may have acted inappropriately so that the next time they try and return, we do not allow them in. We share this information with our friends at Fager’s Island in Ocean City, along with any other venues within our area, so if someone does something inappropriate at Fager’s Island, we know it when they try to enter The Starboard, and vice versa. Our system clears the memory regularly, only saves the information on an individual who our managers may flag as someone who should not be allowed to return. We can also quickly share the driver’s license of anyone with our local police if needed. We have long worked very well with our local Dewey police and Delaware State Police.
“We also have 100-plus video security cameras throughout our interior and exterior. This is for the safety of everyone. In today’s world, most places of gathering should have adequate security cameras. These cameras were helpful to the Department of Justice in their investigation of this tragedy; they often commented to our staff how helpful our system is for them to gain the facts of their case.”
Editor’s note: Cape Gazette reporter Ellen Driscoll contributed to this story.