A disturbance in downtown Rehoboth prompts calls to 911 and a police response. What happens next sparks controversy, an investigation, and a sour aftertaste for one officer who used to love his work. Here is his story.

By Victor Letonoff Jr.  |  Photograph by Scott Nathan
From the April 2014 Issue

policeAll use of force lawsuits are measured by standards established by the Supreme Court Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The Supreme Court cautioned courts examining excessive force claims that “the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” The Court also stated that the use of force should be measured by what the officer knew at the scene, not by the “20/20 vision of hindsight."

— From “Law Enforcement and the Law,” Policeone.com

The incident began on Sunday, April 7, 2013, about 4:45 in the afternoon. It was an unusually warm day for that time of year in Rehoboth Beach, making it uncomfortable to wear my ballistic vest, but a great day for young men to walk about shirtless, showing off the tattoos they’d acquired during the long gray winter.

What typically happens when the first warm and beautiful weekend arrives is that everyone who can heads to the beach to shake off their winter blues. It’s as if someone throws a switch and the town is packed. Suddenly, people are arguing over parking spaces in the first block of Rehoboth Avenue, minivans are unloading families at the boardwalk, and merchants have a glow that says it’s finally time to make some money.

I’m a police sergeant on the city’s full-time law enforcement staff, and although I’ve worked 12 summers, the change always catches me off-guard when it happens.

On that April day, I was near the end of a 60-hour week. Actually, I was working a 66-hour week  because I was covering half a shift from the night before: A sergeant had been sick and one of the corporals was out on the Family and Medical Leave Act . That means I finished a 12-hour shift the day before at 7 p.m., went home, took a nap, then returned to work at 1 a.m. By 4:45 p.m. I’d been on for nearly another 16 hours. One of my corporals, Tyler Whitman, had done something similar, working 18 hours straight until I came back at 1; he then rushed home for a quick break before returning to do another 12-hour shift with me. By 4:45, we were both dead tired and ready for the day to end at 7.

I had parked my police cruiser on Wilmington Avenue at the boardwalk and decided to take a walk. The fresh air would wake me up a bit, plus I would show a police presence. A great way to wind down, I thought, before heading back to the sergeant’s office, where I would finish my paperwork. I could see how this long week was finally,finally, going to end. I was feeling good, the sky was beautiful, and the shadows off the buildings stretched out, forming hard-edged contrasts with sunny areas, creating images akin to the sharp-edges illustrations in old Marvel comic books. On the beach, families were laughing and playing and young couples walked hand in hand near the water’s edge.

I was about two blocks from my car when 911 Dispatch came over the radio: “7316 and 7313” — indicating Tyler and Cpl. Curtis Sauve — “respond to the Crosswinds Motel for a disorderly subject.”

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