A state trooper pleaded guilty to assaulting teens over a doorbell prank. He could face prison time

Apr 12, 2024, 12:44 PM

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A suspended Delaware state trooper is facing prison time after pleading guilty to criminal charges involving a brutal assault on a teenager who targeted the trooper’s house in a prank.

Dempsey Walters, 30, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree assault and deprivation of civil rights, both felonies, authorities said. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and two counts of official misconduct. Prosecutors plan to recommend that Walters be sentenced to 1½ years in prison.

“We do not recommend prison sentences lightly, but there is no question that justice demands it here,” Attorney General Kathleen Jennings said in a prepared statement. “The defendant’s rampage against two kids, and his subsequent attempt to conceal his misconduct, was brutal, dishonest, and unacceptable.”

The case marked the first use of a state civil rights law that lawmakers passed unanimously in 2022.

Walters was indicted in September 2023 for assaulting a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, whose eye socket was fractured. Authorities said Walters was off duty and returning to his home in Elsmere last August when he and the 17-year-old got into an argument. Walters contacted Elsmere police, who took the teenager to his home and turned him over to his mother. The following day, authorities said, Walters looked him up on Delaware’s state law enforcement database.

Three days later, Walters was on duty when the 15-year-old and three friends, who were walking past Walters’ home, decided to play a doorbell prank. The teen ran up to Walters’ house and kicked the door before running off. In home security camera footage, the teen’s face appears to be covered. Walters’ girlfriend called him and gave him a description of the teen. Walters drove to the neighborhood and called other troopers and police departments for help.

While searching for the person who came to his doorstep, Walters was told by a witness that several juveniles had just run down the street where the 17-year-old lived. Walters drove to the area, looked up the 17-year-old again on the state database, and went to his house with two Newport police officers.

When the officers arrived at the teen’s house, he and a friend came to the front door. Walters grabbed the 17-year-old and forced him to the ground, injuring him, authorities said. The teen, who was not part of the group that played the doorbell prank, was handcuffed and detained but never formally arrested during the encounter, which was captured on Newport police body cameras and Walters’ body camera.

Walters then heard that the group involved in ringing his doorbell had been found and detained. When he 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 teen’s head and neck area, which can be seen on a police vehicle camera and Walters’ body camera.

As the 15-year-old was arrested and put in a police vehicle, Walters confirmed with another trooper that the person in custody was the same person who had kicked his door. He then turned off his body camera and walked to the police vehicle. While the teen 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.

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A state trooper pleaded guilty to assaulting teens over a doorbell prank. He could face prison time