Delaware trooper facing felony charges involving assaults on teens after doorbell prank at his house

Sep 26, 2023, 2:41 PM

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A Delaware State Trooper is facing several felony charges involving a brutal assault on a teenager who targeted the trooper’s house in a prank.

An indictment issued Monday against Trooper Dempsey R. Walters, 29, includes the first use by prosecutors of a new felony deprivation of civil rights law that was passed in Delaware last year.

Walters, who has been suspended without pay, also is charged with felony assault, two counts of misdemeanor assault and two counts of official misconduct. He turned himself in Tuesday afternoon and was released from custody after posting bail in the amount of $29,000. An attorney representing Walters did not immediately return a telephone message Tuesday afternoon.

The court docket indicates that Walters waived reading of the indictment and pleaded not guilty.

According to authorities, Walters, who has been a trooper for more than six years, was off duty and returning to his Lancaster Village residence in Elsmere on Aug. 17 when he encountered a 17-year-old boy. The two got into an argument, and Walters called Elsmere police. Responding officers took the boy to his home on Taft Avenue, where he was turned over to his mother.

The next day, Walters looked up the juvenile on the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, or DELJIS, the state law enforcement database.

On Aug. 21, a 15-year-old boy and three friends were walking past Walters’ residence when they decided to play a prank commonly called “ding-dong ditch,” in which a person walks up to a residence, rings the doorbell or hits the door, and runs away. The boy ran up to Walters’ house, covered his face, and kicked the door before running off, an incident captured on a home security camera.

Walters’ girlfriend called him and gave him a description of the boy, police said. Walters, who was on duty, drove to his neighborhood and called other troopers and police departments for help.

Back in his neighborhood, Walters was told by a witness that several juveniles had just run down Taft Avenue. Walters drove there and met two Newport police officers.

Walters again used DELJIS to look up the 17-year-old Taft Avenue resident he had encountered on Aug. 17. When the officers arrived at the boy’s house, he and a friend came to the front door. Walters grabbed the boy from the doorway and forced him to the ground, injuring him, police said. The boy was handcuffed and detained, but never formally arrested during the encounter, which was captured on Newport police body cameras andWalters body camera.

Walters then heard that the group involved in the doorbell incident had been found and detained. When Walters arrived at their location, the 15-year-old was face-down on the ground with a trooper attempting to handcuff him.

Almost immediately upon arriving, according to investigators, Walters dropped his knee onto the back of the boy’s head and neck area, which can be seen on a police vehicle camera and Walter’s body camera.

As the 15-year-old was put in a police vehicle, Walters confirmed with another trooper that the boy was the juvenile who had kicked his door. Walters then turned off his body-worn camera and walked to the police vehicle.

While the boy was handcuffed in the back of the vehicle, Walters punched him in the face, fracturing his right eye socket. Walters then walked around the vehicle and turned his body camera back on.

“As a mother and grandmother, the footage in this case is hard to watch,” Democratic Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a prepared statement. “As a prosecutor, the constitutional violations are stunning.”

Delaware State Police Col. Melissa Zebley said ensuring public safety and continuing to rebuild public trust are top priorities for her agency.

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Delaware trooper facing felony charges involving assaults on teens after doorbell prank at his house