Police criticized for not notifying public

A prisoner briefly escaped the Dewey Beach Police Department following an incident involving an unruly crowd over Memorial Day weekend.

“It happened around the same time as the large, disorderly crowd,” said DBPD Sgt. Cliff Dempsey. “And [the escapee] was apprehended within minutes.”

However, the DBPD only admitted to the escape after a citizens’ group brought it to light.

The brawl

Memorial Day weekend was, as always, a busy one in Dewey Beach, and police had their hands full. In the very early morning hours of Sunday, May 27, they were called to Coastal Highway in the area of Dagsworthy Street. There they arrested 22-year-old Taevon Potts, of Milford, who was allegedly pushed and yelled at others, resisted arrest and made threatening statements to police.

The crowd of 20-30 people refused to disperse and several fights broke out. Officers from the Delaware Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, the Rehoboth Beach Police Department and the state police arrived to assist.

Two agents suffered minor injuries when a vehicle refused to stop, despite commands. The driver, 32-year-old Sherelle L. Evans of Milford, was charged with two counts of third-degree vehicular assault and criminal mischief.

A 19-year-old Lincoln man, Major Foster, was issued a criminal summons for underage consumption, misrepresentation of a license and disorderly conduct, and 23-year-old Gavin Coco of Arlington, Virginia, was issued a criminal summons after striking a DSP horse. The horse was not hurt.

Lack of transparency

A press release issued jointly by the Dewey police and DATE May 29 addressed the “brawl at the beach,” but there was no mention of an escaped prisoner.

About two weeks after the Memorial Day weekend incident, Dewey Citizens for Accountability sent out a press release, asking why a “recent escape by a suspect from the Dewey jail” had not been disclosed to citizens. The group is a nonprofit dedicated, in part, to investigating the DBPD’s involvement in a federal military surplus equipment program.

According to the statement, “The Dewey Citizens for Accountability urge the town and the police department to disclose the jail escape as part of the promised transparency, and for an outside party to investigate this escape, as these incidents present considerable risk to the town’s residents for which they should be informed in a timely and responsible manner.”

Both Mayor TJ Redefer and Sgt. Dempsey readily admitted that the escape occurred.

“The suspect was recaptured within minutes, 50 to 100 yards from the holding cell at town hall,” said Redefer. “There was no threat to people or property.”

The escape

Dempsey refused to name the escaped prisoner, saying the crime occurred over 72 hours ago and, according to him, police are not permitted to release “criminal history.”

He did say, however, that a male had been removed from a restaurant for criminal trespassing and was brought back to the police station.

“He basically destroyed the wall, went through another room and out the door,” Dempsey said. “The dispatcher saw him and alerted the officer, who apprehended him quickly.”

The police department has the authority to decide what is and isn’t worthy of a press release.

“In this incident there was no danger to the public,” Dempsey said.

The department  requested to have their holding cell reinforced several years ago, but the issue wasn’t addressed until Redefer took office last fall, according to Dempsey. Since then, a welding company has been hired to do the job but has not yet carried out the work.