On Tuesday, Nov. 12, a Delaware Council on Police Training trial board, based on the evidence presented, unanimously found Bethany Beach Police Lt. Richard Haden guilty on five of six charges lodged against him by the by Bethany Beach Police Department’s Internal Affairs Office.
During the hearing, which was attended by approximately 30 people, police Lt. Darin Cathell sat beside Town Solicitor James Liguori. No other town officials were present for the hearing.
The hearing followed a criminal Superior Court trial in which Haden had been acquitted of Assault in the Third Degree, following an indictment by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
The AG’s Office had filed the indictment after a review of internal police department video referred to the office by Bethany Beach Police Chief Mike Redmon that depicted Haden and another officer interacting on March 3 with 45-year-old Dagsboro resident Joseph Burke while he was in BBPD custody on suspicion of drunk driving.
Haden was suspended from his job on March 4, with pay and benefits. However, following the indictment, Haden was suspended without pay or benefits.
On Aug. 28, Superior Court Judge E. Scott Bradley granted a defense motion filed by one of Haden’s attorneys, resulting in the granting of a Judgment of Acquittal. But Haden still faced the hearing on conduct-related charges within the BBPD. Tuesday’s trial board comprised Delaware State Police Lt. Eric Hamm, Dover Police Department Lt. Jason Pires and New Castle Police Department Lt. Doug Merrill.
After a hearing on Tuesday that lasted more than four hours, it was announced that Haden had been charged with six separate charges.
He was found guilty by the trial board of three of the charges: use of non-lethal force, knowingly making a false official report related to his supplemental crime report and knowingly making a false official report related to his use-of-force report. Evidence for those three charges was found by the board to be substantiated.
In those charges, the police department argued that Haden used unnecessary force while dealing with Burke in March.
“You physically grabbed a seated prisoner by the throat and verbally challenged him, causing the situation to escalate into a physical confrontation,” read the charges. “During your confrontation, you moved the subject’s defensive hands away from his face and repeatedly struck him [three times]. You utilized unnecessary force in the performance of your duties,” which the department’s statement said they believed “was in violation of Use of Non-Lethal Force 2 E in the department’s policy.”
Burke had been taken into police custody in the evening hours of March 3, after BBPD Patrolman Zachery Bonniwell pulled Burke’s vehicle over for allegedly going 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.
According to the transcripts of Haden’s August criminal trial, Burke failed his field sobriety test and was taken back to the police department, where he blew a .202 BAC — more than two and a half times Delaware’s legal limit of .08 BAC.
While in police custody, Burke was given permission to use the restroom before being seated, without handcuffs, in the department’s fingerprint room, along with Bonniwell.
Haden alleged that Burke had called him by his first name at the time of the traffic stop and then, once inside the department, continued to make comments.
“Statements were made to me at the scene. ‘We’re neighbors. I know where you live. We’re going to see each other all the time,’ which were unusual. There were a lot of things I’ve prepared myself for over my career. Saying ‘I know where you live’ was not one of those statements,” Haden stated.
Once inside the police department, even though Haden was standing in the outside hallway, out of view, and not in the print room with Burke and Bonniwell, he alleged that Burke continued to speak to him.
“A lot of the comments were focused toward me while I’m standing in the hallway,” testified Haden. “‘We live in the same community.’ ‘I’ll see you at Wawa.’ ‘I’ll see you at church.’”
That evening, Haden ran a criminal history on Burke and found that he had been previously charged with Second Degree Burglary, Criminal Impersonation of a Police Officer and Criminal Mischief. He had also previously been arrested for two DUIs, making the March 3 DUI incident a potential felony arrest.
“He’s a big hulking person who Rick knew had a record. Violence was in the picture, and he lives nearby. When a bully threatens you, you don’t just let it go away,” Haden’s attorney Joe Hurley said during his opening statement. “If Rick wanted to punch the guy, he could’ve nailed him... He had every opportunity.”
Haden said that, once an alleged verbal threat was made regarding his wife and three children, he felt compelled to address Burke.
“‘My face will be the last face your wife and children ever see,’” Haden recalled Burke saying to him. “That’s what angered me… bringing my wife and children into a situation… My wife and my children were being brought into a felony DUI arrest by a suspect who has already pointed out where I live, that he will make a point of seeing them in public and that he’ll go out of his way to do it.
“I was going to confront this person that threatened my family. I was going to make them know I’m not going to roll over and let my family be threatened.”
Haden said that his use of force needed to be taken into context — specifically, what it is to be a police officer and have threats made.
“At this time last year, there were people driving around shooting at Sussex County, Wicomico County and Worcester County police officers’ homes. I believe that trial is going on right now for one of those subjects that put a bullet through a Dewey Beach police officer’s home.”
When asked if the threatening statement was included in his report of the incident, Haden said that it was not.
“I made an omission. I left that out. I noticed going through my report. I’ve made other omissions,” he said. “Reading through my report, the fact that it was not in my report causes me to second-guess myself.”
“The charge actually says, ‘knowingly falsify,’” pointed out Julianne Murray, one of Haden’s attorneys, following the board’s decision on Tuesday. “So if there’s no intent… I have a hard time with that. His testimony was he had no intent to do that, that when you’re doing a report it can happen.”
Pires asked if the specific comments made by Burke regarding Haden’s family were included in his reports.
“To my knowledge, that’s not been documented,” he said. “I failed to document 100 percent.”
Bonniwell, who had completed his field training three months prior to the March incident, also testified at the hearing. He stated that Burke’s arrest was his first felony DUI, and he had previously made, at most, two DUI arrests.
He acknowledged that, during Burke’s time in his custody, Burke did comment that a Bethany Beach police officer lived in his neighborhood and that the officer’s police car could be seen in the home’s driveway.
“He specifically stated he didn’t know what he did to get under the other officer’s skin. As well, he stated there was a vehicle in his neighborhood — he didn’t know that was,” said Bonniwell of Burke’s statements following the incident.
Following the alleged threat against his family on March 3, Haden can be seen on security video entering the print room and putting his right hand on Burke’s left upper neck area and putting his face very close to Burke’s.
“I did want Mr. Burke to know that, through my touch, I was in charge, that, without a doubt, he is not going to threaten my family. At that point in time, I was the alpha male,” he said. “I meant to hit a pressure point. I blew it.
“I did not choke him. I did not injure him in that position,” Haden emphasized. “I attempted to hold him in the chair. As a husband and father, what he was saying was unacceptable, intolerable and was going to stop. I am a father and husband first. And then I am a police officer. You’re fine threatening me. But you don’t threaten my wife and family.”
“Your reaction should’ve been, ‘I’m not doing this the right way, I’m going to reapply,’” commented Hamm at the hearing.
Hurley argued that the focus of the board needed to be on Haden’s state of mind on the night of March 3.
“In Delaware, our legislature and our forefathers in the Constitution recognized it’s subjectively what he believed was necessary under the circumstances.”
At the hearing, there was confusion related to whether the Town was charging Haden with violating the department’s non-lethal force policy regarding the force he used while trying to subdue Burke, punching him, following a scuffle that occurred between the three men after the initial hands-on contact made by Haden. Liguori said the Town was only focusing on the initial contact made by Haden.
“Even if what Lt Haden did in that one first contact was somehow improper or whatnot, Burke’s reaction to that is not acceptable under any circumstances,” said Delaware Deputy Attorney General Michael Tupman, who acted as counsel to the trial board.
“There was a reasonable escalation of force in order to bring this guy who’s going berserk under control. I think it’s clear now, for the record, all we’re talking about in terms of the force charge is the initial contact by Haden with Burke.”
Process of reporting and investigation questioned by attorneys
Following the evening’s incident, Haden also requested a no-contact order be imposed by the courts against Burke, due to the alleged threats.
“I called Court 3 to specifically ask the judge to add a no-contact order,” said Haden. “It was issued to Mr. Burke upon his arrival at SCI.”
The department also charged Haden with knowingly making a false official report, for both the supplemental crime report and his use-of-force report related to the March 3 arrest.
In the two reports, Haden reported, “I moved towards him while asking him if he was threatening me. He stood up. I tried to use the pressure point at the notch below the throat to put him back into his seat, unsuccessfully. He attempted to grab my hand. I placed my hand on his throat, pushed him back into the seat and asked him if he still wanted to threaten me and my family.”
The department argued that, during his Sept. 24 Internal Affairs interview, Haden commented that “I put a pressure point on him. It wasn’t around his throat. My hand was off to the side,” and “My hand was never around his throat.”
Haden said that he wrote the two reports that night, before going off duty at midnight.
“I turned this report in immediately that evening. The next time I saw it was at the Attorney General’s Office,” he noted, adding that, usually, officers have the opportunity to proofread their reports before submitting them.
“It’s obviously there were some mistakes in my report. There’s a lot of adrenaline, there’s fear and concern. There’s a lot else happening in those milliseconds of time when you are in these situations. It’s not that time slows down to that degree where everything is photo-perfect. I never had the opportunity to review my report.”
Haden said that, in reviewing the video recording of the incident, he saw that Burke had not stood, as he had reported in his two reports that evening. However, he still, in his mind, recalls seeing Burke stand, he said.
“As much as I’ve watched that video, my perception is still of him coming out of the chair.”
Bonniwell in his reports also wrote that Burke had stood immediately prior to the lieutenant entering the print room to confront Burke.
“I thought he had stood up for some reason when the lieutenant walked in,” he said.
“When you actually see the whole video, there’s a lot of Mr. Burke kind of rocking back and forth. No, he did not stand up, but the kind of leaning forward and out into the hall… what was going on there could absolutely be construed to be aggressive, to say the least,” said Murray following the hearing. “But clearly the board said something else.”
Haden testified that he was aware that everything in the department was recorded, including at the time of the incident.
“I knew everything was on videotape. There was no doubt in my mind everything was being captured.”
Haden said that he expected to be suspended pending a review of the incident but believed he would return to work shortly thereafter.
“This is not a common occurrence for the Bethany Beach Police Department, with my experience and tenure. I had an expectation that I would be investigated and that the investigation would [result in my being] exonerated,” he said. “It’s a very reasonable expectation that the administration needs to investigate these situations. Anytime there’s a use of force, there’s a review. I understand that.”
He testified that over his 16-year career he had filed approximately 20 use-of-force reports; however, had never been suspended after making any of those reports. He also testified that, during his tenure, he had previously arrested people whom he knew.
“Did you cross the line that is expected of a Bethany Beach police officer in grabbing Mr. Burke?” asked Liguori.
“Yes,” responded Haden.
As to the alleged threats made to Haden by Burke, Bonniwell testified in Superior Court that he had “zoned out” while Burke was making comments while seated in the print room.
“I’m not listening to the conversation between them,” he said of his actions at that time.
At the police hearing, Bonniwell testified, “If a threat was made towards me or to the lieutenant, I would’ve heard it.”
“You knew, when you said, ‘What did he say?’ and Haden said, ‘He threatened me,’ there had been no threat, because you would’ve heard it?” asked Hurley at Tuesday’s hearing. “Nonetheless, you wrote in your report, knowing it was false, and filed that report, knowing it was false?”
“Yes,” responded Bonniwell.
“In Superior Court you indicated you relied upon Haden in telling you that a threat had been made, and that all you knew was what he said,” said Hurley.
“That’s correct,” said Bonniwell.
“That’s not true. You knew that hadn’t been said, so you lied under oath,” asserted Hurley. “When you filed that affidavit and swore before the magistrate that night that a threat was made, you knew that was a lie?”
Bonniwell was told at that point in the hearing by Merrill that he did not have to answer Hurley’s question, and he did not.
At the hearing, it was noted that there was no audio recording for the video surveillance from inside the police department and that the recording equipment on Bonniwell’s patrol car had malfunctioned on the night of the incident.
Officer pleads guilty to two charges, found not guilty of another
Haden pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a charge of engaging in a physical confrontation with a prisoner while wearing his duty weapon, as well as a charge of not wearing the authorized duty belt at the time of the incident.
Haden said that he had not been wearing his authorized duty belt because his back had been bothering him, as he suffers from the “typical law-enforcement degeneration” of the lower discs in his back.
Instead, he was wearing a pancake holster, attached to his belt, which is made for off-duty use. He explained that the holster’s snap does not offer the level of security that the department would want for a weapon during duty.
Haden also stated that it had not been his intention to enter the holding area at all, which is why his weapon had not been properly secured at the time of the incident.
“I never intended on going into that room. My intention was to stay outside of that room, being there for not only officer safety, being there to make sure Zachary was successful in his processing of this difficult DUI.”
At the time of the incident, Haden and Bonniwell were the only employees inside the department.
“I didn’t want to be there. I was there for officer safety,” he testified.
The department had also charged Haden with conduct unbecoming an officer, stating, “Your conduct reflects discredit to our agency, which is a violation of Rules and Regulation D 4.”
“We begin with what we all learned in kindergarten, that sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” argued Liguori. “Haden grabbed by the throat this seated, drunken prisoner who was not physically challenging.
“The fact remains that the conduct that Lt. Haden exercised was conduct unbecoming. He not only initiated the physical contact, he caused the situation to escalate to become hands-on in the processing room and thereby jeopardized the safety of not only the drunk but his coworker.”
The trial board unanimously found Haden innocent of the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer.
“What disturbs me greatly is that justice was not served today and a good police officer’s career is on the line based on incomplete evidence,” said Murray in a written statement following the decision.
“What is worse is that this officer with over 15 years of experience was destroyed by his own police department — and evidence that was deemed inadmissible by a [deputy attorney-general] would have, in my opinion, cleared him.
“Unlike the patrolman that was allowed to watch the video and amend his report, Lt. Haden was never given the opportunity to amend his report and is being accused of falsifying his report. Under Title 11, a person acts knowingly when a person is aware of their conduct.
“Clearly, from the evidence, when Lt. Haden wrote his report the night of the incident, he was recalling what he believed to be true and wasn’t aware that his initial recollection of the incident was faulty. It was not until much later, that he realized the error and, by then, his department accused him of intentionally falsifying his report.
“The only justice in this case so far has been with the Superior Court of the State of Delaware, who threw out his criminal charge. Lt. Haden was devastated by the finding of the Board and is exploring all appellate avenues,” Murray said.
An official written report of the trial board’s decision will be released at a later date. According to Delaware Code, “any decision, order or action taken following the hearing shall be in writing and shall be accompanied by findings of fact. The findings shall consist of a concise statement upon each issue in the case.”
“The outcome is successful. We’re happy for that outcome. It’s up to the chief of police as to what happens next,” said Liguori following the end of Tuesday’s trial. “Three of Lt. Haden’s peers think he was wrong. The board, they’re the same rank.”
Haden is still currently suspended from the department without pay and benefits. According to Murray, there has been an “indication” that Haden will be terminated from his position as a lieutenant in the department. A special meeting of the town council was set for Nov. 15, related to personnel matters, but the nature of the issues involved and whom they might involve is not made public.
Following the hearing, Redmon said he could not comment on the outcome of the trial board, as it was a personnel matter; however, he said that, once the department receives the written decision, he will make a determination as to how to discipline Haden.
He added that he could not comment as to whether the department would charge Bonniwell for falsifying his reports after Bonniwell contradicted himself at the hearing.