03/24/2007

Family of ex-Marine brings excessive force lawsuit against Del. police

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WILMINGTON, Del. - The family of a former Marine who was given multiple electric shocks and then shot to death by police sued Friday, claiming the officers used excessive force and violated the man's constitutional rights.

Police were investigating a motorcycle gang when they encountered Derek J. Hale, 25, housesitting for a fellow member who had been arrested there earlier, according to the lawsuit.

Hale's widow and parents allege that although Hale posed no threat and police had no warrant for his arrest, they shocked him with a Taser gun three times Nov. 6.

The lawsuit alleges that when Hale, left incapacitated and vomiting, was unable to comply with police commands to raise his hands, a Wilmington police officer shot him three times in the chest.

Attorney Thomas Neuberger said the family hopes to restore the reputation of Hale, who served two tours of duty in Iraq. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and an injunction to force Wilmington and state police to properly train their officers in the use of Tasers and deadly force.

Asked what she hoped to get out of the lawsuit, Hale's widow, Elaine, said ''it would be a murder conviction that would make me most happy.''

The officer accused in the shooting, Lt. William Browne, is on administrative duty while an investigation continues.

Browne, Wilmington Chief Michael Szczerba and the state police superintendent, Col. Thomas MacLeish, are among those named in the lawsuit.

Spokesmen for the agencies had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. A message left with the attorney general's office, which is investigating the shooting, was not immediately returned.

Police have said Hale did not comply with orders and resisted arrest after investigators saw him moving items from inside the residence to a vehicle, and believed he was preparing to flee.

Two officers used a Taser on Hale, according to police, who said Hale, while on the ground, still refused to remove his hands from his pockets and ''continued to struggle'' before he was shot. Police have said they found a can of pepper spray and a knife in his pants pockets.

Hale, of Manassas, Va., was a member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club and traveled to Wilmington to participate in a Toys for Tots ride, and there was no probable cause for his arrest, according to the lawsuit.

An 18-month investigation of the Pagans led to the arrests of a dozen people just two days before Hale was shot.

Hale, who police previously had labeled a ''person of interest,'' was described as an unindicted coconspirator two weeks after the shooting when a grand jury indictment accused 16 Pagans of being involved in criminal racketeering and criminal street gang offenses, as well as drug trafficking. Sixteen other individuals were indicted on drug and weapons charges.

 

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