Coda to a Killing: No Justice for Derek Hale

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The practice of police “accountability” generally consists of using money stolen at gunpoint to buy off victims and survivors of officially sanctioned criminal violence.

Few better examples can be found than the $975,000 settlement paid by the City of Wilmington, Delaware, to Elaine Hale, whose husband Derek was murdered by Wilmington Police on November 6, 2006.

The settlement brings to an end a federal lawsuit that was scheduled for trial next July – more than four years after Derek, a Marine veteran who served two tours in Iraq, was shot three times at point-blank range after being tasered seven times within the space of about a minute. Unarmed and cooperative, Derek was not a criminal suspect and had done nothing to justify arrest, let alone summary execution.

Pay-offs of this kind are part of a ritual of self-exculpation in which the police and the local criminal clique they serve loudly proclaim their complete innocence, even as their cynical actions offer eloquent testimony of their guilt. William S. Montgomery, one of the palace eunuchs who serve Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker, performed his role perfectly.

“We were very confident in our case and know that our officers acted properly and professionally,” lied Montgomery in announcing the settlement, which – as he went on to say – meant that the supposedly rock-solid case would be spared “the inherent risk of a jury trial.”

Fortunately, Montgomery pointed out, the risk of a trial was “eliminated for less than the cost of defense.”

Through the miracle of socialized municipal risk management, nobody will face accountability for the extra-judicial killing of a 25-year-old husband and father of two stepchildren who had celebrated his first wedding anniversary just days before he was murdered.

Shortly after receiving a medical discharge from the Marine Corps, Derek joined an “outlaw motorcycle club” called the Pagans. In November 2006, Derek and some friends from the club made a run from Virginia to Wilmington as part of a Toys for Tots promotion. Derek didn’t know that for more than a year before he joined the club the Pagans were the subject of a Delaware State Police investigation.

Derek was house-sitting for a friend on the day he was murdered. Sandra Lopez, the soon-to-be ex-wife of Derek’s friend, arrived with an 11-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter early in the afternoon to remove some personal belongings. Derek – wearing a hooded sweatshirt – was sitting quietly on the front porch of the home when an unmarked police car and a blacked-out SUV arrived at around 4:00 PM and disgorged a thugscrum of 8–14 heavily armed police. According to eyewitnesses, the officers were dressed in black, and displayed no police insignia of any kind.

At the time, Lopez and her children were standing behind Derek on the small porch, which was at the top of a short stairway. The armed strangers ordered the woman and her kids to move away from Derek, who by this time had risen to his feet. One of the cops ordered Derek to remove his hands from his sweatshirt. No more than a second or two later, according to eyewitnesses, he was hit with the first of what would be seven Taser strikes.

The Taser blast knocked Derek sideways and sent him into convulsions. His right hand involuntarily shot out of its pocket, clenching spasmodically. Ordered to put his hands up, Derek struggled to comply, but found himself paralyzed. So he was struck with a second Taser blast that drove him to the side and induced him to vomit in a nearby flower bed.

"Not in front of the kids," Derek pleaded. "Get the kids out of here."

The officers continued to order Derek to put up his hands; he was physically unable to comply.

So they tased him again.

And again. And again. And again. And again.

“That’s not necessary!” exclaimed eyewitness Howard Mixon, a contractor who had been working nearby. “That’s overkill! That’s overkill!”

One of the bold and brave paladins of public order swaggered over to Mixon and threatened him: “I’ll f*****g show you overkill!” snarled the barely literate tax-feeder. Meanwhile, Derek – left to wallow in a puddle of his own vomit – was trying to comply with the demands of his assailants.

"I’m trying to get my hands out," Derek gasped, trying to make his tortured and traumatized body obey his will. Horrified, his friend Sandra screamed at the officers: "He is trying to get his hands out, he cannot get his hands out!"

Few things bring out the raw courage of a cop like the sight of an unarmed and defenseless “suspect.” Acting with the serene confidence that his victim couldn’t harm him, Lt. William Browne of the Wilmington Police Department – who was close enough to seize and handcuff Derek, if this had been necessary – shot him at point-blank range, sending three .40-caliber rounds into his chest.

In May 2007, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden – yes, the glorious outpouring of Vice Presidential loins – issued a report vindicating Browne’s actions. The report began by claiming that “the purpose of the Tasering was to overcome Derek Hale’s resistance to the arrest so he could be taken into custody without injury to himself or to the officers.”

Leaving aside the fact that the Taser assault caused severe injury to Derek (as a coroner’s report later confirmed), and also made it impossible for him to comply with police orders, every eyewitness to the murder who wasn’t implicated in the crime insists that the victim never resisted arrest in any way. Furthermore, Thomas Neuberger, one of the attorneys who represented Derek’s widow, pointed out that the Wilmington PD’s departmental policy on Taser use does not authorize the use of that reliably lethal weapon on non-resisting suspects.

Biden’s report also claimed that Derek’s "menacing" behavior – which consisted of vomiting into a flowerbed while begging the police to get the kids out of harm’s way – led the timid creature known as William Browne to believe that “he was in immediate danger” and that “the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to prevent serious injury or death” to him or to one of his partners in state-sanctioned crime.

No charges were filed against the individual who murdered Derek Hale. Shortly after Biden issued his report, Browne was promoted. This infuriating detail was merely filigree on the tapestry of mendacity woven by Delaware’s “law enforcement community” to cover up the murder of Derek Hale.

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In the years prior to the anti-Pagan crack-down by the Delaware State Police (DSP), the agency was besieged with lawsuits alleging civil rights violations, and subject to several ongoing corruption probes.

Attorney Thomas Neuberger told me three years ago that DSP Commander Thomas MacLeish (or “Colonel Tom,” to use Neuberger’s not-at-all affectionate nickname), who was appointed to his post in 2005, made improving the agency’s public image his highest priority. A high-profile campaign against a big, bad biker gang was just the thing to repristinate the department’s image.

The State Police operation eventually yielded a 160-count indictment, much of which was withheld from the public. After prosecutors had cluttered the air with lurid but vague allegations of “racketeering” and “gang activity,” thirty-two Pagans were arrested on narcotics and weapons charges. The investigation came to a thoroughly anti-climatic end when fewer than a half-dozen Pagans were charged with narcotics-related offenses. All of them were given deals that didn’t involve prison time.

Like six-year-old Aiyana Jones, who was murdered by police last May in a Detroit SWAT raid staged for TV cameras, and 21-year-old Las Vegas resident Trevon Cole, who was murdered by police (while trying to dispose of a misdemeanor-sized amount of marijuana) in a hotel drug raid that was also the outgrowth of a “reality TV” program, Derek Hale was a casualty of a police PR campaign. He didn’t become a “person of interest” until after he had been killed.

Immediately after the shooting, the DSP contacted the Virginia State Police and – in a deliberate act of official perjury – told them that the murdered Marine was a suspect in a narcotics investigation. Police from Delaware and Virginia barged into the Hale family’s Manassas home, shoving aside a grieving wife and two devastated children in order to carry out a charade of a search in the service of an official fiction.

The architects of this cover-up weren’t content to terrorize Hale’s devastated widow and step-children; they also traduced the character of the murder victim.

On November 21, 2006, roughly three weeks after Derek’s death, the DSP issued a breathtakingly dishonest press release alleging that the victim had “resisted arrest” and claiming that he “was at the center of a long term narcotics trafficking investigation which is still ongoing.” Meanwhile, prosecutors frantically cobbled together the above-mentioned ominum gatherum indictment in the hope that somebody – anybody – connected to Derek would be charged with an actual crime.

Now, three years later, the people responsible for the murder and cover-up have taken care of the final detail by paying off the victim’s family at taxpayer expense.

Derek grew up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Shortly after he was murdered, a man who had known Derek in his childhood contacted me to express his outrage that a “responsible, respectful” young man of exceptional character could survive two tours of duty in Iraq, only to be slaughtered by a Death Squad here at home.

“There is no way in hell he would have threatened a police posse,” Derek’s friend told me. “When I saw his obit in the local paper I thought he must have been killed in Iraq or something – but alas our own home-grown terrorists took the life of an innocent man.”

December 21, 2010