Visitors accuse Dewey police of excessive force

Four officers, town charged in federal complaints
June 12, 2013

Two Dewey Beach visitors say they suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Dewey Beach Police officers.

Allen Wedell, a 26-year-old man from Connecticut, and Frank Shock, a 63-year-resident of Prince George's County, Md., filed separate complaints in the U.S. District Court of Delaware May 31 against the town of Dewey Beach and four of its police officers.

Both complaints accuse the officers of using excessive force and unlawfully detaining the men.

Dewey Beach Police Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said the department could not comment on personnel matters.  “At this time, we have not received the complaints yet,” he said June 4.

In Wedell’s complaint, he says he was pulled over by Cpl. Henry Powell and Cpl. John Jenney for a traffic violation April 22, 2012.  Wedell says he told Jenney his driver's license was in his hotel room.

Powell then approached the passenger's side window and tapped on the glass, the complaint states.  The passenger in Wedell's car started to lower the window, but Wedell overrode the passenger's control and raised the window.

"At the time plaintiff raised the window he did not know who was approaching the passenger's window and had yet to identify the individual as a police officer," Dagsboro attorney Stephen Norman wrote.

According to the complaint, Powell screamed at Wedell and questioned why he had raised the window.  He then approached the driver's side door, reached through the window, unlocked and opened the door.

"Powell proceeded to violently grab plaintiff – one of Powell's hands grabbing plaintiff's hip and the other grabbing plaintiff's shoulder – and attempt to rip plaintiff out of the vehicle," Norman wrote.

Wedell's seat belt was fastened, preventing Powell from extracting him from the car.  "Plaintiff sat motionless at all times, docile, and did not resist Powell's aggressive actions," the complaint states.

Powell then unfastened Wedell's seatbelt and pulled him from the car, causing Wedell's foot to release the brake, and the car began to roll, the complaint states.  After Wedell was removed from the car, Norman wrote, Powell threw Wedell against the rear of the car and handcuffed him.

"Plaintiff suffered severe damage to his abdomen including but not limited to muscle damage," Norman wrote.  "Plaintiff suffered severe damage to his head and face, including but not limited to a gash on his chin."

According to the complaint, Wedell was kept in handcuffs and verbally abused for 20 minutes.  "Throughout the entire series of events, Jenney remained at the scene and did not intervene to stop Powell's egregious behavior," Norman wrote.

Powell wrote Wedell a ticket for driving without a license; Wedell sought medical treatment after he returned to Connecticut, the complaint says.

Lt. Billy Hocker conducted an internal investigation of Powell's behavior and found no violations and no use of excessive force, Norman wrote.

Wedell is charging Powell with unlawful detention, false imprisonment, use of excessive force, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress; Jenney with failure to intervene; and the town with deliberate indifference to constitutional rights and failure to adequately supervise and train its police officers.


Shock seeks an end to seasonal police force

Shock claims he was riding his bicycle home from Lighthouse Cove when a Dewey Beach patrol car swerved in front of him.

According to the complaint, Cpl. Gregory Lynch and Patrolman Brian Donner got out of the vehicle, picked Shock up from the bike and threw him onto the pavement.

One of the officers put his knees into Shock’s back, the complaint states.  “Lynch, a heavy-set man, placed his foot on the side of plaintiff’s head and face and grounded plaintiff’s head and face into the pavement gravel,” Norman wrote.

According to the complaint, bystanders who witnessed the June 11, 2011 incident were screaming at Lynch and Donner to stop beating Shock.

Shock was handcuffed, put in a police van and taken to the Dewey Beach Police Department, the complaint states.  He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

“Lynch threatened to take plaintiff to prison in Georgetown if plaintiff did not sign off on the charges for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at that moment in time,” Norman wrote.  “Plaintiff signed off on the charges.”

According to the complaint, Shock was released from the station after 50 minutes.  He then returned to his house, where a friend called ambulance and Shock was taken to Beebe Medical Center.

Shock says he suffered injuries to his head, face, ribs, arms and leg, and he experienced heart palpitations because of the event.

In June 2011, Dewey Beach Police officials told the Cape Gazette Shock was intoxicated, yelling profanities and attempting to fight the officers.

The charges against Shock were dismissed in September 2011 because Dewey Beach Police failed to appear in court for Shock’s trial.

Shock is charging Lynch and Donner with unlawful detention, false imprisonment, use of excessive force, malicious prosecution, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.

Shock says the town exhibits a deliberate indifference to visitors’ constitutional rights, and it fails to supervise and train its police officers.  “One example of this failure to properly train and supervise its officers is the town’s policy of hiring seasonal police officers without proper training or supervision in the town’s busy summer season,” Norman wrote.

Both Wedell and Shock are seeking damages for the separate incidents.  Shock also asks the court to issue an injunctive relief ordering the town to discontinue its policy of hiring seasonal police officers.

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