Man accused of pointing a gun toward Delaware political protesters indicted
A man captured on video drawing a gun from his holster and pointing it at people protesting a Lauren Witzke rally in late September has been indicted on two felony counts, the Delaware Department of Justice said.
The indictment comes about a week and a half after the Sept. 24 incident, which Witzke condemned at the time. In the days following, protesters who had the gun pointed at them said they were frustrated no charges had been brought.
On Monday, a New Castle County Grand Jury indicted 60-year-old Michael Hastings on one count of reckless endangering and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. The indictment was announced Tuesday.
The incident unfolded on a Thursday as people gathered along the northern side of the 3400 block of Lancaster Pike to protest a campaign event across the street for the Republican U.S. Senate candidate challenging incumbent Chris Coons.
During the competing events, Hastings was captured on video pulling out his gun, a 9 mm Glock handgun, from a side holster and pointing it in the direction of the protesters.
In her quick denouncement of the incident, Witzke said: "Firearms should only ever be used to defend life and property. I denounce this behavior completely, and will support law enforcement as they work to resolve the situation."
Several people, including Tori Parker, reported the incident to Delaware State Police, who were nearby monitoring the events.
During the interaction with police, which was captured on video, Parker and another woman were told by troopers that they were monitoring the situation. When one of the women asked if what the man did was illegal, the officer responded:
"We have the situation under control and we are reviewing now," he told her. "We have surveillance going on."
When Parker pressed more about the man with the gun, the officer said they had "eyes on the subject and we're handling the issue."
PROTESTERS SPEAK OUT:Still no charges for man who drew gun at political rally near Wilmington last week
This all occurred within a 10-minute span, she said.
The trooper's statement to the women is different than a statement state police provided Delaware Online/The News Journal.
"In this particular case, once troopers were notified of the incident, they responded to contact the suspect, but he had fled the area," a police spokesman said.
Joseph Connor was one of the protesters who had the gun pointed in their direction. He said last week he feels police just want the incident to go away.
"In my view, they don't want to deal with this," Connor said. "We have incontrovertible video evidence of a guy lifting up his gun and pointing it."
He reiterated that on Tuesday, though added he thinks the justice department "did the right thing."
"Twelve days is not the shortest amount of time, but something has happened to rectify (the incident) and bring put us on a path towards justice," Conner said.
He said Attorney General Kathy Jennings has "a responsibility to move at the appropriate speed so that when an indictment is returned ... they're able to support it and get a conviction."
"I don't take any issue with the attorney general's office at all," he said. "My issue is 100% the behavior of the Delaware State Police."
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Conner said he believes state police Superintendent Melissa Zebley "needs to take a look at this and find out whether or not there's bias inside of her organization" that prevented Hastings from being arrested the day of the incident.
In a statement, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Darren Lester said the detective who was investigating the incident "spent a considerable amount of time tracking down actual victims and witnesses."
"All evidence in the case needed to be gathered and reviewed before the case was presented to the Attorney General’s Office," Lester said.
When asked about the time frame of the charges, justice department spokesman Mat Marshall had a similar comment, saying the DOJ had to analyze "all available evidence" before charging Hastings.
Marshall said cases prosecuted by the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust, which is taking over Hastings' case, "almost always go to grand jury, our preferred mode of charging."
"We presented this case to the first available grand jury," Marshall said. "I’m confident that a week and a half from incident to indictment is, relatively speaking, a very short turnaround."
Jennings also weighed in Tuesday, saying "the right to free expression should be free of danger.”
“This is not responsible gun ownership," she said. "A firearm is a deadly weapon, period, and there is never a good reason to point it toward anyone except in self-defense.
"Mr. Hastings’ actions endangered others and we will prosecute him fully.”
Hastings turned himself in to police Monday night and was later arraigned before a Justice of the Peace court. He was released on his own recognizance, though as a condition of Hastings' bail, he is required to give up all firearms or other "deadly weapons," court documents show.
He also "may not acquire or be in possession" of any others at any time.
Monday's indictment is not the first time this campaign season that someone has been charged for an incident at a Delaware political event.
Last month, a grand jury indicted two women on hate crime, robbery, assault, offensive touching and child endangerment charges in connection with a "Make America Great Again" hat stealing incident and accusations of assault outside the Democratic National Convention at the Riverfront in August.
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Officials said Olivia Winslow and Camryn Amy, both 21 and from Wilmington, were videotaped confronting Trump supporters who were protesting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden outside the DNC, and taking a red MAGA hat from them.
A young boy in the video can be heard saying, "That's somebody else's hat," after Winslow appears to pick it up off the ground and throws it.
"Call 911," the boy says to his mother as the two women walk away with the hat.
Later in the video, a man attempting to get the hat back appears to be punched by the person identified as Amy, who later throws the hat over a fence.
Unlike in Hastings' case, Winslow and Amy were arrested shortly after the incident. Wilmington police said they identified the two after reviewing the video footage.
Several weeks after the women's arrests, another incident unfolded, this one at a rally for President Donald Trump organized by Witzke.
Delaware State Police said six people — three children ages 5, 7 and 10 and three adults ages 41, 44 and 70 — were standing on a concrete wall near Kirkwood Highway when three men hanging out of an SUV drove by and threw eggs at them, hitting them all.
A video tweeted by Witzke showed a little girl with egg yolk in her hair. The U.S. Senate candidate said in her tweet that the attack, which she called a hate crime, was perpetrated by "hateful leftists."
Police said they do not currently have any information about the suspects, though. Last month, they released an image of the car used in the egging but have not made any arrests.
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