Cape native's death questioned

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Family and friends are questioning the killing by police of a former Cape Girardeau man, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Derek Hale was fatally shot by police in Wilmington, Del., after being stunned multiple times by Tasers. Eyewitnesses say Hale, 25, a Central High School graduate, posed no threat to police at the time of the shooting. Hale's widow Elaine is planning a wrongful-death lawsuit.

"I'm struggling with it constantly. I still can't believe it happened, it's not real to me," Elaine Hale said when contacted at her Manassas, Va., home.

"I don't know whether it's anger or just unbelief, but when I think about them coming over here and going through his stuff, I just don't know what to say." She referred to a search of her home by officers minutes after informing her that her husband had been killed.

Hale, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, was a member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club. The club was the subject of an 18-month investigation by Virginia and Delaware law enforcement officials for suspected drug running.

At 4 p.m. Nov. 6, Wilmington police officers, along with members of the Delaware State Police Drug Unit, approached Hale outside a residence on the city's West 6th Street.

According to police reports, Hale did not comply with orders from the arresting officers and resisted arrest. Two police officers then used Taser devices, according to police. After being tasered, Hale, then on the ground, still refused to remove his hands from his pockets and "continued to struggle." One Wilmington officer, a 21-year veteran of the police department, used a .40-caliber weapon to fire three shots, killing Hale at the scene. The officer who used deadly force is currently on administrative leave pending the outcomes of investigations by state and local agencies.

One witness, Fred Mixson, a contractor working next door at the time of the shooting, told the Wilmington News Journal a far different account.

"He didn't deserve to be shot. He wasn't any kind of threat," Mixson was quoted as saying.

"They had him surrounded. They could have grabbed him."

Mixson told a reporter that the entire confrontation lasted only two to three minutes. He recalled officers tasing Hale "about a second" after asking him to remove his hands from the front pockets of his hooded sweatshirt.

Mixson also reports Hale was tased a third time. Hale's hands were shaking violently from the shock, and one was clearly visible while the other was near the sweatshirt pockets, according Mixson and other witnesses.

Four other eyewitnesses interviewed by the News Journal declined to be named but affirmed that Hale posed no threat at the time of the shooting.

Police recovered a switchblade and a 3-oz. canister suspected to be pepper spray from Hale's front pants pockets. According to witness accounts published by the News Journal, Hale's hands were not in these pockets.

Elaine Hale says she was not told of her husband's death until 8 p.m. the next day. A Virginia police officer and a chaplain came to inform her "there was a warrant out for his arrest, there was a struggle, and he had been shot," she said.

Later reports confirmed there was no warrant out for Hale's arrest. He was only wanted as "a person of interest" who had no outstanding warrants and a clean criminal record.

Authorities said 32 members of the Pagans club were later arrested on charges of racketeering, gang participation and drug offenses.

Elaine Hale says between 10 and 20 officers came back 30 or 40 minutes after she learned of her husband's death. They had a search warrant and removed T-shirts and books related to the Pagans group, she said.

She believes officers broke a window to gain access to the Dodge Neon at the scene. Public information officer Steven Elliott could not confirm or deny these claims.

Elaine Hale said a carelessness with her husband's effects has added to her fury at police. She has retained local attorney Thomas Neuberger as legal counsel and will meet with him this week to discuss her options.

"We're going to sue the hell out of them, to put it bluntly. It's wrong what they did," she said.

James Wellborn, a truck driver from Manassas who is a member of the Pagans chapter there, knew Hale and said he never had any association with drugs.

Wellborn said he could not speak to the Wilmington chapter of the biker club. He said he had never known Hale to go up there before the shooting, and Hale told him he was going up to help raise money for Toys for Tots.

Local people say the Derek Hale they knew would never be involved in any sort of drug activity. "He was a good kid. He never meant any harm to anyone," said the deceased man's father, Dennis Hale of Cape Girardeau.

Dennis Hale believes his son's association with the Pagans was a way to recapture the brotherhood of the military.

"He liked to ride bikes, so I guess he took up with them on weekends. Basically, he missed the comaraderie of the Marines. That's how he got involved," he said.

Dennis Hale said his son was a daredevil who "was always up for a little challenge" and once tried bull riding at the Show Me Center for some extra money at Christmas.

Dr. David Crowe, a Cape Girardeau orthodontist, remembers Hale as the boy who befriended his son Taylor, who is autistic.

"Derek is a true hero in my life for what he did for my son Taylor. In elementary school when Taylor was in the throes of autism, Derek was right there helping him and involving him in the mainstream; coming over on weekends or any free time Derek had. He was an extraordinary young man," Crowe said.

"What an unspeakable irony and tragedy, when you survive two tours in Iraq and then are killed by law enforcement in your own country," he said.

Gabe Kinder, a management trainee for Enterprise Rental Car, graduated from Central High School with Hale in 2000 and remembers someone with extreme respect for those in uniform.

"One comment in the paper said he was approaching officers. If that was true it would have been to try to talk things out. He was always the one to try to make peace or try to figure out what was going on," Kinder said.

No one interviewed had any knowledge of Hale ever being associated with drugs. Reports from Hale's widow and father said he had recently taken the step of not allowing alcohol in his home.

Hale leaves behind a 3-year-old daughter and two stepchildren.

335-6611, extension 245

Use of force guidelines vary

Wilmington, Del., police fatally shot an Iraq war veteran Derek Hale after using a Taser stun gun twice, according to police reports.

An eyewitness account reports the Taser was used three times, and Hale was incapacitated at the time of the shooting.

A Wilmington Police public information officer, Steven Elliott, said an ongoing investigation by state and local authorities will determine whether deadly force was warranted.

A key issue in this investigation, said Elliott, will be whether discharging the Taser actually rendered Hale incapacitated.

The Tasers were fired by two different officers according to Elliott, who would not go further into the department's policy on using force because, "it would give criminals our game plan."

Locally, the Cape Girardeau Police Department uses Tasers with a force of 50,000 volts. In 2005, the department used the devices 44 times and had used them eight times as of March 28.

The department says it prefers using 25-foot range Tasers or 10-foot range pepper sprays to deadly force because of the devices' ability to incapacitate a suspect.

It has been approximately 3 1/2 years since a Cape Girardeau police officer fired a gun in anger.

A Taser fires two half-inch, needlelike prongs into the subject. Two wires connect the prongs to the Taser, allowing the officer to send a nonlethal, 50,000-volt charge for five seconds.

After the initial charge, the officer can continue Tasing the subject in five-second bursts if he or she remains combative. The wire that tangles between the prongs and Taser are also live, and could send a charge through anyone who touches it.

Staff reporter Kyle Morrison contributed to this report.

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