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What happened the night Brandon Roberts was shot and killed?

Erica Jones protesting police brutality at Milford City Hall  Saturday, June 13.

The City of Milford has formally declined to release any of the documentation surrounding the death of Brandon Roberts.

Roberts, 27, was shot and killed by Milford Police Department officers Jan. 5 at an apartment in Silver Lake Apartment Complex. The department has repeatedly declined to comment on the incident.

“They were afraid of him because of the color of his skin,” said Roberts’ fiancée, 29-year-old Erica Jones. “They know what they did was wrong and they’re trying to cover it up.”

On Thursday, June 25, a Freedom of Information Act request was submitted to the city, requesting the recording of Roberts’ 911 call, police reports, body camera footage of the incident and disciplinary records of the officers involved.

The state of emergency allows all public bodies to defer responding to FOIA requests until 15 days after the state of emergency's termination, but Milford’s city clerk, Teresa Hudson, responded July 31.

None of the requested information was provided.

“Brandon was sweet. He would give anybody the shirt off his back. He was a really good dad. He spoiled me,” Erica Jones said of her fiancée.

Exceptions to disclosure

“Under the Delaware FOIA Statute, those items are all exceptions to disclosure as part of the ongoing investigation by the Delaware Department of Justice and the Delaware State Police,” Hudson said. 

Investigatory files are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. That includes the Roberts 911 call, police reports and body camera footage.

“Additionally, litigation has been threatened against the City of Milford by the family of Brandon Roberts,” Hudson went on. “Those items are further exempt from disclosure … as they are ‘records pertaining to pending or potential litigation which are not records of any court.’”

Per Delaware FOIA law, any records pertaining to pending or even merely potential litigation are not subject to public disclosure.

Finally, Delaware’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights requires police disciplinary actions to be kept confidential.

“The City is statutorily prohibited from releasing any disciplinary records, should they exist,” Hudson wrote.

Brandon Roberts, Erica Jones and their firstborn son.

The night of the shooting

Roberts called 911 on himself that night. His fiancée, 29-year-old Erica Jones, was in the apartment and said Roberts had bipolar disorder and was “having a mental breakdown.”

Jones’ former lawyer, Wilmington’s Thomas Neuberger, said Roberts told the dispatcher he had a gun, but Jones then got on the phone and told them he did not.

After the Milford Police Department asked them to investigate, Delaware State Police outlined the events that night in a press release. As officers arrived at the apartment, Roberts came out into the hallway, “advancing” at police officers while “brandishing a large knife,” police said. 

Jones has a different version of what happened that night.

“He did not lunge at them. He didn’t even have a chance to raise his hand. It was less than three seconds,” she said. “I couldn’t believe they shot him and all he did was open the door.”

She wondered what would have happened had she or her son opened the door.

“And then what, we would have been dead? Because it happened too fast,” she said.

Jones is working with national civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who represents the families in several prominent national cases of people of color who were killed by police, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Jones said they plan to file a lawsuit.

Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings has pledged to make police reforms.

Promised reforms in Delaware

Delaware State Police spokeswoman Melissa Jaffe said Aug. 11 they have completed their investigation and turned it over to the Department of Justice for review.

Attorney General Kathleen Jennings’ office declined to comment.

Following the death of George Floyd and the renewed groundswell of the Black Lives Matter movement, Jennings issued a police reform agenda on June 10.

The list of proposals includes publicly releasing videos of police shootings within ethical bounds and reforming the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights “to allow for greater accountability for misconduct.”

“We have to change the use of force statute in this state. We need a statewide policy on use of force that shows the best practices to every police officer in this state so they know the rules,” Jennings said at a June 10 press conference. “We need to change the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights that has been so sacrosanct and will no longer be if we’re going to make meaningful change.”

Jones awaits the attorney general’s decision on her fiancée’s case.

“They should lock those officers up, because they committed a crime. Just because you’re on the police force doesn’t mean you can get away with committing crimes,” she said. “If it was a regular person … we would get locked up. They shouldn’t be any different.”