5 Delaware police officers cleared in 3 separate fatal shootings

Esteban Parra
Delaware News Journal

Five Delaware police officers involved in three separate fatal shootings were cleared of criminal wrongdoing this month, according to reports issued by the state Attorney General's Office.

In the three fatal shootings, the reports said the victims were armed and police had instructed them to either "stop" or "drop" their weapon or to raise their hands. In the most recent police-involved shooting to be resolved, the attorney general's report said Brandon D. Roberts told Milford officers: "Shoot me."

Milford Police Cpl. Nigel Golding and Patrolman Patrick Karpin were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the Jan. 5 fatal shooting of 27-year-old Roberts.

Milford Police Cpl. Nigel Golding and Patrolman Patrick Karpin were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the Jan. 5 fatal shooting of the 27-year-old Roberts, according to the report released on Wednesday. 

This report came a week after the same office cleared Wilmington police officers Keith Johnson and Angeline DiFebo in the fatal shooting of Ricardo Hylton on Aug. 30. The Attorney General's Office issued a report on Aug. 4 clearing Delaware State Police Cpl. Nicholas T. McLaughlin in the fatal shooting Shane S. Swider on Nov. 29.

"The Delaware State Police are confident that the case has been investigated to the fullest extent," said Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe, a state police spokeswoman, of the matter involving one of its officers.

Both Wilmington and Milford police deferred comment to the Delaware Justice Department.  

The reports come at a time when protesters, emboldened by a nationwide movement against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer, have increased their pressure on Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings to reopen a case in which four Wilmington officers fatally shot Jeremy "Bam" McDole on Sept. 23, 2015.

Terence Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer-turned-civil rights investigator, who is investigating the Hylton shooting as well as the McDole matter, said it was time that the Attorney General's Office stopped being advocates for police departments and work to represent all of Delaware. 

"They're supposed to be for the people," said Jones, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Total Justice. "From June 30, 2020, to June 1, 2005 – 15 years – there's been 56 people shot by police and zero officers held accountable.

"So the Attorney General's Office for 15 years ... they said that all these officers are perfect. They're not like any of us. They don't make any mistakes."

Jones was interviewed last week before the Attorney General's Office released the Roberts report, bringing that tally to 58 officers cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Two more police-involved shootings that occurred this year have not been resolved yet. The state Department of Justice has not published a report on the following deaths: 

Jones sent a letter last week requesting the U.S. District Attorney's Office look into allegations Delaware police have “deliberately & recklessly" shot three people in the state. The U.S. District Attorney's Office confirmed on Friday it had received the letter.

Attorney General spokesman Mat Marshall took issue with Jones' comments. 

"We've seen this from Mr. Jones before and we'd make far more progress if he spent as much time substantiating his claims as he spends seeking celebrity for them," Marshall said. "We've held ourselves to the highest ethical standards. We've only ever asked for one thing, for Mr. Jones to do the same. We're still waiting. Until he starts producing evidence we will not continue to indulge his baseless tirades."

The pressure to charge officers involved in the McDole shooting has involved multiple protests, including one outside Jennings' house in Wilmington's Highlands neighborhood on Aug. 6. Video posted on social media showed Wilmington officers lined around Jennings home as protesters rallied for hours. 

Keandra McDole speaks outside the Caravel building before her meeting with Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings. Protests have increased pressure on Jennings to reopen a case in which four Wilmington officers fatally shot her brother, Jeremy "Bam" McDole, in 2015.

McDole's sister, Keandra McDole, met with Jennings last week at the state Department of Justice's office in the Carvel State Office building in Wilmington. At that meeting, the sister said she provided names of witnesses, as well as the name of a person who she said could confirm what type of gun McDole would have had on him.

"Which is clearly not the gun that was in the picture that they posted July 28," Keandra McDole said. 

Last month, the Attorney General's Office released images of a gun they said was in McDole's possession the day he was shot by the four officers. The release of the images, which had not been made public until last month, revived claims the gun had been planted by police. 

This is an image of the gun the Delaware Department of Justice said was found after Jeremy McDole was shot by Wilmington police in 2015. The photograph, released on Tuesday, was not included in the original report it issued in 2016. The Justice Department said it was releasing the photos "in the interest of transparency."

NEW EVIDENCE:Recently released photos raise old questions in police-involved killing of Jeremy McDole

After the meeting with Jennings, Keandra McDole said the attorney general told her they would not charge the officers with murder. If anything, she added, they might be charged with tampering with evidence and/or assault.  

"It doesn't sit with me well at all," she said, adding the four officers need to be held accountable. This includes charging former Senior Cpl. Joseph Dellose, the first officer who shot her brother, with murder.

A spokesman for the attorney general said the office makes charging decisions based on the evidence available to them and the applicable law: "We do not announce charging decisions before reviewing evidence." 

Marshall said their office has been speaking with Keandra McDole, including a June meeting having to do with claims of new evidence.

"As we've stated privately and to the media for more than a month now – including The News Journal on June 23 and July 30 – we urged anyone who believed they had new evidence to come forward," he said. "The AG committed to Ms. McDole that we will review any new evidence, and we maintain that promise."

Keandra McDole, Jones and others have also brought up Carl Rone's involvement in the case. Rone was the Delaware State Police ballistics expert who reviewed the McDole case but was arrested in 2018 on charges he falsified $30,000 in work claims.

Carl Rone, a former civilian employee of the Delaware State Police.

At least one criminal sentence has been vacated as a result of Rone falsifying work records – that would be Alan Fowler's 50-year prison sentence for attempted murder and two counts of reckless endangerment. 

FABRICATIONS:Delaware gun expert's criminal charges help upend 50-year prison sentence for Elkton man

Fowler ended up pleading guilty last year to first-degree assault, a weapons charge and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison followed by several years of probation. 

"That (Rone's involvement) alone is enough to reopen the investigation," said Jones of McDole's case. 

Marshall said Rone's analysis was not pivotal when the matter was reviewed by then-Attorney General Matt Denn. 

The argument that the Justice Department knows who shot McDole is a similar argument the Justice Department provided Delaware Online/The News Journal after Wilmington Police Cpl. James MacColl shot Yahim Harris in February 2019. 

In this image taken from a cell phone video, police approach Jeremy McDole in the 1800 block of Tulip Street in Wilmington in 2015.

Questions of why bullets recovered from the Feb. 2, 2019, scene did not match MacColl's weapon followed after the Justice Department released its use-of-force report into the Harris shooting.

"As indicated in the report, an examination could not match the projectiles to the service weapon," Marshall told The News Journal in November. "We have full faith in that analysis, but the fact that the officer had fired shots and struck MacColl was undisputed. The conclusions of the report are not affected by the discrepancy and any discrepancy would become a matter for the officer's agency."

While the Justice Department cleared MacColl of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting, the carjacking and weapons charges filed against Harris were eventually dismissed when it was revealed MacColl was dishonest about whether he changed the barrel of his gun.

NO CHARGES:Charges dropped against unarmed teen shot by Wilmington police after officer's credibility questioned

MacColl, who was one of the four officers involved in McDole's shooting, is no longer with the Wilmington Police Department. 

'Stop' 

In addition to the Justice Department's reports issued this month, the department also released video and photos before and during the police-involved shootings.

This includes a dashcam video recording of state police Cpl. McLaughlin firing a single shot at 46-year-old Swider about a second after shouting "stop." Swider, whose name had not previously been released by law enforcement, is not seen in the video.

Smoke can be seen coming from Delaware State Police Cpl. Nicholas T. McLaughlin's weapon after fatally shooting Shane S. Swider on Nov. 29 (McLaughlin is the third person from the right). The screen grab comes from the dashboard camera of a Lewes Police Department vehicle.

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Police were called out to the 300 block of E. Savannah Road on Nov. 29 after receiving a report of a man armed with a handgun and threatening suicide, according to the report.

"Officers from Lewes Police Department responded to the scene and advised over radio that Swider was in the driveway of the residence and armed," the report said.

Delaware State Police troopers arrived to assist, including McLaughlin who got there about 8:30 p.m. – about 10 minutes after the incident began. 

McLaughlin, who was armed with an agency-issued Sig Sauer 516 .223-caliber rifle, took up a position at the end of the driveway to provide cover for Lewes officers who were negotiating with Swider.

"Swider spoke with the officers and put the handgun to his head, making statements such as, 'Things will end tonight,'" the report said.

Officers on-scene requested less lethal weapons and canine assistance, but neither were available nearby.

Swider put the handgun on the ground at least twice, but he refused to move away from it. Because of how close he was to the weapon, police did not lunge at Swidner, estimating he could grab the gun before they could get there. 

About 9:05 p.m., Swider picked up the handgun and began raising it in the direction of McLaughlin and a Lewes officer.

"The Motor Vehicle Recording reveals Cpl. McLaughlin yelled 'stop' before he fired," according to the report. "Cpl. McLaughlin fired one round, striking Mr. Swider in the upper torso. Officers approached Mr. Swider and began rendering aid."

Swider was taken to Beebe Healthcare where he was pronounced dead.

His postmortem drug screen was positive for opiates, benzodiazepines and tramadol, according to the report. 

"Based on the available evidence and the application of expert opinion to that evidence, we have concluded that it was objectively reasonable for Cpl. McLaughlin to believe that the use of deadly force upon Mr. Swider was immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting both himself and the other Officers on scene," according to the nine-page report. "For these reasons, the Department of Justice concludes the use of deadly force by Corporal McLaughlin upon Mr. Swider does not constitute a criminal offense under the laws of the State of Delaware."

'That's a straight suicide mission'

In the Hylton killing, the Justice Department released nine videos, including some duplicates that had been enhanced.

Background:After man shot and killed by Wilmington police, friends struggle to understand

In one of those videos, which came from a cellphone, one can immediately hear a volley of gunfire as the person holding the phone – about a block away – takes cover behind a street utility box.

The gunfire went on for about three seconds. 

The audio from the cellphone video captures the moment when Wilmington Police shot and killed Ricardo Hylton on Aug. 30.

The ballistics report said 17 bullets were fired: Hylton fired four from a 9 mm handgun, while DiFebo fired six and Johnson fired seven. Both officers fired their department-issued .40-caliber semiautomatic handguns and Hylton was hit six times.

According to the Justice Department's 15-page report, a friend dropped Hylton off in the 2700 block of N.Washington St. about 7 p.m. on Aug. 30. 

Hylton walked to his pickup truck and ripped the side mirror off. 

"He then walked to the rear of the truck and fired a single shot from his handgun, striking the tailgate of the truck," the report said. "He began yelling, saying 'this is my voice' before firing an additional shot into the air."

Hylton walked north on Washington Street, at one point yelling and falling to the ground.

While walking down the street he was pointing his handgun at people, but the report said there was no evidence he fired the gun at anyone.

Ricardo Hylton worked as a forklift operator at the Port of Wilmington.

Johnson and DiFebo, who were at an unrelated complaint, heard the gunshots and went to the scene, the report said.

When Johnson and DiFebo arrived, the report said three or four people told them a man in a white-and-blue shirt was firing a gun. They then told the officers to go north on Washington Street.

When the officers saw Hylton, he had crouched in the road, next to a silver vehicle parked on North Washington Street, near 28th Street.

Hylton's back was to the officers and he "appeared to be addressing people on 28th Street," the report said.

The officers then parked their police cars a few yards from Hylton. 

The report said Johnson could see Hylton holding a handgun in his left hand. 

Both officers ordered Hylton to drop the weapon.

"Multiple witnesses confirmed hearing officers issue the commands to Mr. Hylton," the report said. "Hearing the command, Mr. Hylton turned to face the officers, simultaneously transferring the firearm to his right hand and positioned it down near his crotch."

After he moved the firearm to his right hand, Johnson and DiFebo told investigators they saw Hylton holding an unknown object in his left hand. He then tried to put that object on top of the handgun. 

"Instead of dropping the firearm, both Officers and multiple witnesses observed Mr. Hylton raise the firearm and point it towards Officer Johnson and Officer DiFebo," the report said. "One witness believed Mr. Hylton managed to fire a single shot."

Both officers fired their handguns at Hylton.

There are discrepancies in accounts as to whether Hylton shot at the officers.

At least two witnesses told investigators that they "thought Mr. Hylton had fired immediately before the officers," according to the report. Both the officers told investigators that it was possible Hylton fired, but in the confusion, they could not be sure.

Ricardo Hylton

"Based on this evidence no conclusion can be drawn as to whether Mr. Hylton did, in fact, fire his weapon at officers," the report claims. "Regardless, whether he did fire or not is an unnecessary inquiry given the other corroborated facts available leading to the legal conclusion."

After giving Hylton aid, the report said, Johnson placed Hylton's firearm in a lockbox in his patrol car and turned it over as evidence.

Those who knew Hylton struggled to understand why the home remodeling business owner and father of a months-old son would not follow police instructions.

A postmortem toxicology report found Hylton did not have any alcohol or illegal drugs in his system at the time of the incident. 

"He would have never pointed a gun at police or went up against police," Hylton's fiancée, Aisha Jones, told The News Journal last year.  "That's a straight suicide mission."

'This will be the last time you see me'

The Roberts' online report published several 911 calls placed from the apartment of the 27-year-old man's fiancée and five videos. While two of the videos come from police body cameras, the clearest view of what occurred comes from a security camera belonging to the Silver Lake Estates apartments. 

It's this view, Roberts can be seen carrying a butcher knife toward Golding before the corporal fired at him. 

The incident began about in the early evening of Jan. 5, when several 911 calls were placed from Erica Jones' apartment. Most of the calls were ended by the caller. 

In one call, which is difficult to hear, Roberts said there was "a domestic dispute at 21 Linstone Road, Apartment . . .” before he trailed off. Roberts can be heard saying, "He has a gun and he’s about to shoot everybody."

CONFLICT:Fiancée's story of man's death at the hands of Milford officers differs from police account

In another call to 911, Roberts was heard saying: "I'm holding them hostage, 911." In this one, a baby can be heard crying in the background, and at one point Roberts can be heard saying he "just f####d up the rest of my life.” 

Jones can then be heard on the phone apologizing to the operator saying they needed to speak to his Roberts' mother. While Jones gave the operator her address, she did not provide the apartment number. 

"I kind of don't want to give you the apartment number because he keeps trying to go out there with a knife," she is heard saying. As she is finishing the sentence, Roberts says, "Apartment 5.  And any cops that pull up here, I’m killing all ya'll bitch ass, cracker ass motherf###ers."

When asked if Roberts has any weapons, he is heard saying he had "a big ass machete," an AK-47 and a bomb: "I’m part of ISIS, I’m about to blow this whole s##t up."

The operator asked Jones if she could leave the apartment, but Jones said "he's not letting me out of the room."

Roberts got back on the line and said: "I'm going to come outside and y'all are going to have to shoot me, because I'm not going to jail."

Jones was able to tell the operator that Roberts had a house knife and then said "he has a mental disability so that's why he's acting like this."

Jones also said she needed an ambulance because Roberts had been punching her. At the time, Jones was about 5 months' pregnant with their second child. As Jones and the operator spoke, Roberts is heard speaking to his then-1-year-old son: "I love you, O.K., I love you.  This will be the last time you see me."

Brandon Roberts (left) and Erica Jones with their son, Nasir.

When officers knock on the apartment door, Jones again reminds the operator that Roberts has a mental disability: "So please take it easy on him because he is bipolar, and he is schizophrenic and yes, he does have a mental disability. He has anxiety and he has a lot of other problems that we don’t know yet."

The officers were warned that the man inside the apartment was threatening violence to law enforcement and may have mental health issues, according to the report.

In the video, the officers had their weapons drawn as they walked up to the second-story apartment.

Golding can be seen knocking on the door, while Karpin stood in a hallway to the right of the senior officer.

The apartment door partially opens and Roberts can be seen behind it.

Golding ordered Roberts show his hands, according to the report. But as the door began to close, Golding reached to open the door and Roberts exited with a butcher knife in his right hand.

As Roberts started raising his right arm, the report said Golding told investigators "he thought he was a 'dead man.'"

Golding, according to the report, reached out with his left hand to try and keep Roberts' right arm down. Golding gun remained in his right hand. 

As Roberts continued toward Golding, the officer fired his weapon striking Roberts three times, the report said. Karpin also fired at Roberts, hitting him seven times. 

Roberts' upper body, can be seen slumping forward in the video before the entire body crashes into the railing and then the floor. 

Roberts was then handcuffed and the officers began giving him first aid, according to the report.

In the audio recording of the  911 call, Jones is heard saying, "Oh my God, I told you he had a disability. Did they really shoot him?'"

Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, eparra@delawareonline.com or Twitter @eparra3.