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This Dover woman broke her leg during a traffic stop. The state just reduced her felony charges.

Emily Lytle
Dover Post

Four months ago, ShaRon Caldwell sat in front of the steps of the Dover Police Department with a boot on her broken leg, calling for action against a police officer who she said used excessive force during a May 13 traffic stop.

“I would just like to see justice served for the police officer that did this to me,” the 24-year-old woman said during the June 2 press conference. “I don’t believe he should be a part of this police force because if you [use] this type of force to me, what force will you [use] to anyone else when you stop them for something as minor as headlights.”

Caldwell was stopped for not using her headlights while driving in the area of North New Street and Mary Street at about 9 p.m. on May 13. Police said she refused to show license, registration and insurance and resisted arrest.

During the incident, she broke her leg in two places.

ShaRon Caldwell (center) spoke briefly to reporters outside the Dover Police Department June 2 after she broke her leg during a May 13 traffic stop. She was joined by her mother and other supporters, including Bobby Wilson (right) of the Central Delaware NAACP Branch.

Dover police arrested and charged Caldwell with assault and injury to a police officer; resisting arrest with force or violence; offensive touching of a police officer; disorderly conduct by fighting or violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior; failure to obey the state’s emergency stay-at-home order; and driving without two lighted headlights.

Caldwell attended a preliminary hearing — a court proceeding that determines if there is enough evidence for a trial — at the Kent County Court of Common Pleas on Friday, where the state dropped the assault charge and the emergency stay-at-home order charge. The other charges remain as misdemeanors or traffic violations. 

Attorney Emeka Igwe is one of Caldwell's lawyers. He said the defense spoke with the chief deputy attorney general in August and requested that all charges be dropped. 

Mat Marshall, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Justice, said the state made the decision based on the facts and evidence available.

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"We are aware of the defense’s request and, after reviewing it in the context of all the evidence we have, believed justice would be best served by proceeding with the current charges," he said. 

Emeka Igwe is one of the attorneys representing Caldwell.

Igwe's team has filed a formal request for all videos, including from the four squad cars at the scene and street surveillance, and any related reports. Co-defense lawyer Aman K. Sharma said they specifically asked for preservation of the video – from both the attorney general and the city’s attorney, Daniel Griffith. 

“We believe the video is going to demonstrate that our client was a victim … a victim of a vicious assault,” Igwe said.

He said he expects to have the video by sometime this week. 

Marshall confirmed that there is video that captures the entire incident. He said any member of the public who wishes to see the video can view it when evidence is presented during the trial.

"Our ethical obligations — including the duty not to prejudice a jury — preclude the release of evidence, including video, in any active matter," he said. 

Terence Jones, a private investigator and founder of the nonprofit Total Justice, joined the case after he said Delaware NAACP President Richard Smith requested he conduct an independent investigation.

With many cities across the country taking a closer look at police officers’ use of force against Blacks, he said, “This is another one of those cases.”

Sharma agreed, saying that the video will further prove police used excessive force against Caldwell.

“We think the video will certainly prove that this is a racially profiled stop,” Sharma said. 

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What the police say

The Dover police officer’s account of the traffic stop tells a different story. 

In the warrant, Dover police said Officer Dale Starke saw Caldwell driving west on Mary Street without headlights around 9:14 p.m. He then turned around his marked police car, found the car parked on North New Street and turned his emergency lights on to conduct a traffic stop. 

As the officer got out of his car, the driver, Caldwell, got out of her car. Police said she began to argue with Starke.

Starke told Caldwell that he was pulling her over for driving without headlights and asked her to get back inside her car. 

Caldwell refused at first, police said. When Starke told her he was going to put her in handcuffs, she argued and then got into her car.

Around this time, Starke called for support.

“The officer felt the need to contact other officers for assistance and as a witness,” said Sgt. Mark Hoffman, the public information officer for the Dover Police Department, in a June interview.

He explained that this is a typical procedure when a driver might be uncooperative. 

When officers James Piazza, Anthony Griffin, Brandyn Clancy and Jennifer Lynch arrived, Starke asked for Caldwell’s license, registration and insurance. She refused and Starke asked her to get out of the car.

At first, she refused, police said, but after being asked multiple times, she got out.

Starke asked her to turn away from him and began to grab her arm, which Hoffman described as a traditional “handcuff maneuver.”

Caldwell then began to struggle with Starke and hit him on the left side of the face with a closed fist, police said. She was then “successfully escorted to the ground.”

Police later found out that Piazza was injured with a swollen and bruised right elbow. Starke had cuts and lacerations to his left elbow.

What the defense says

Jones said the police officer did not follow traditional procedure when pulling a car over for a traffic violation. 

Rather than turn on the police car’s overhead lights and signal as soon as he saw Caldwell driving without headlights, Jones said the officer followed her to her home first. He said Caldwell had already parked and got out of her car to walk inside her home when the police officer pulled up and asked her to get back inside her car. 

Jones recounted the physical part of the incident differently, too.

While police said she was escorted to the ground while resisting arrest, he said, “she was picked up and slammed to the ground.”

Terence Jones, a former Philadelphia police officer-turned-civil rights investigator, speaks with Keandra McDole before her meeting with Delaware Attorney General Kathleen Jennings in August. He has worked on several cases in Delaware, including ShaRon Caldwell's, which had a preliminary hearing Oct. 2.

Even without the video, Igwe agreed.

“No one should have their leg broken in two places,” he said. “It’s certainly excessive force.”

His team pointed out that Caldwell still walks with a limp and has permanent scarring from the incident. 

He said police officers often justify using force because they have a reasonable fear for their safety, but “in this case, you don’t have that.”

During the Friday hearing, Judge Anne Hartnett scheduled a court review for Oct. 29, during which Caldwell will officially plead not guilty to the charges.