A Delaware State Police trooper has been indicted after an investigation into him “brutally beating” a 15-year-old boy who had pranked his house last month.
In a joint announcement Tuesday, the Delaware Department of Justice and Delaware State Police announced felony charges against 29-year-old Dempsey R. Walters, who has been with the state police agency for almost seven years. He remains suspended without pay or benefits, though has not been terminated.
Officials said Walters was on duty when the incident occurred. He turned off his body camera during the assault, officials said, but a program in the device meant it was still capturing video. There was no audio.
Officials released Walters’ body-cam video, showing him walking up to the back of a Delaware State Police SUV that was holding the handcuffed boy. Another trooper backs out of the way as Walters strikes the boy in the face.
Walters then walks around the SUV until he again comes to where the boy is being held and flashes a light at the teen, who turns his body to face the inside the the vehicle. Walters hits the button to turn his body camera on, activating its audio.
“You sure about that?” Walters is heard saying.
“Please tell me what I did? Please tell me what I did?” the boy asks.
Walters was charged with second-degree assault, a felony; deprivation of civil rights, a felony; two counts of third-degree assault, misdemeanors; and two counts of official misconduct, also misdemeanors.
Attorney General Kathy Jennings said Tuesday that the man “chose to extract his own form of personal justice” by “embarking on a violent rampage.”
“As a mother and grandmother, the footage in this case is hard to watch,” Jennings said Tuesday. “As a prosecutor, the constitutional violations are stunning.”
State Police Col. Melissa Zebley apologized to Walters’ victims on Tuesday, including one who did not participate in the prank, and said the agency recognizes “the gravity of the situation.”
“We assure you all that we are taking every possible step to prevent such things from happening in the future,” she said.
What happened to these teens?
Walters was off duty and on his way home on August 17 when he saw a 17-year-old boy near the entrance to his neighborhood in Elsmere, Delaware, according to the indictment. Believing the boy was up to wrongdoing, Walters confronted him causing a verbal altercation, court documents say.
Walters called Elsmere police, who picked up the teen and took him to his home in the nearby development of Lancaster Village.
The teen was not charged, but the indictment says the following day Walters looked up the teen on the state’s law enforcement information database that contains addresses, pedigree and background information.
A few days later, on August 21, a 15-year-old boy and his friends were pranking homes in Elsmere by knocking on doors, then running away also known as “ding-dong ditch.” About 8:30 p.m. that day, the 15-year-old kicked Walters’ door, startling the trooper’s girlfriend. She called Walters, who was on duty.
Walters drove toward his home, calling Delaware State Police troopers and other police agencies for assistance, the indictment said. Police said it was reported as an attempted home invasion, prompting the deployment of the state police helicopter and various K-9 units.
While at his house, the indictment said, Walters spoke to a witness who told him several juveniles had run past him and toward the street where the 17-year-old boy from the earlier incident lived.
Walters and an officer from nearby Newport went to the home of the 17-year-old boy and, at gunpoint, removed them from the house, according to the indictment. The 17-year-old and his friend had not been involved in the ding-dong ditch prank.
The teens were forced to the ground, where one can be heard on body camera video saying “please help me” and calling for his mom.
The teen’s family said they were held in hot police cars for hours before they were released. The mother of the 17-year-old boy was told it was all a “misunderstanding,” The Delaware News Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network, has previously reported.
“Some kids were over in the other neighborhood playing [ding-dong ditch] and they hit a door that belonged to a state trooper police officer,” the mother said an officer told her. “Your son is not on the video. He has nothing to do with it.”
Her son was released after being detained for about four hours with police not providing an incident report. She said Walters had been knocking on doors in the neighborhood and told one of the neighbors that someone had tried to break into his home.
The indictment claims Walters left the scene after handcuffing the 17-year-old and went to where another trooper had detained the 15-year-old boy and his friends. The 15-year-old was face-down on the ground being handcuffed when Walters arrived.
Walters then struck the 15-year-old in the back of the neck and head with his knee, according to the indictment.
With the 15-year-old’s hands cuffed behind him, another trooper took the boy to a state police SUV and was placing him in the rear passenger seat. That’s when the indictment said Walters turned off his body-cam, walked to the police vehicle and struck the boy’s face twice causing an orbital fracture.
Another black eye for the badge
Walters’ indictment adds to the growing list of Delaware law officers who have been recently charged with or convicted of crimes.
Delaware State Police trooper James D. Boyda was placed on six-month probation after he pleaded guilty last year to illegally using a criminal justice computer system to find New Jersey vehicle information for a friend.
Edwin Ramirez, a former Delaware State Police corporal, was indicted in 2021 in a fraudulent traffic warning scheme. He pleaded guilty to falsifying business records and official misconduct in October and was sentenced to a year of probation and 33 hours of community service — one hour for every false e-warning he filed.
A state police spokesperson said the agency will be looking to see if other officers violated policies in the instance for which Walters was indicted.
“When an incident involving the Delaware State Police occurs, we follow a bifurcated process,” Sgt. India Sturgis, a police spokesperson, told The Delaware News Journal. “First and foremost, we prioritize the criminal investigation as was announced today. The next step in the process is for DSP to identify any potential policy violations committed by troopers on the scene.”
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