Officers cleared after bar fight

Details ‘unclear’ in altercation that broke nose of black patron

By Ginger Gibson
The News Journal — Feb. 27, 2010

wo police officers have been cleared of allegations of misconduct stemming from an October bar fight, the Attorney General’s Office announced Friday.

Citing a lack of consistency in witness statements and several possible defenses, including self-defense and mutual combat, the Attorney General’s Office will not press charges against any of the participants in the fight, including two off-duty police officers.

The investigation focused on an early-morning fight Oct. 24 that began inside Dude’s Sports Bar, owned by Wilmington police Sgt. Mark Christopher. The fight, which involved Christopher and spilled onto Union Street, allegedly included racial taunts and slurs.

At one point, a uniformed patrol officer who arrived at the scene and was trying to break up the scuffle used a Taser on state trooper Vincent Clemons, who was off-duty and struggling with another man.

The Attorney General’s Office began its investigation into the incident in December after Wilmington police turned over their findings without a recommendation.

“By most, if not all, accounts, the incident was initiated after an individual was refused service, but, after that, there was a wide variance in the detail provided by witnesses and by those who participated in the altercation, and it remains unclear as to what escalated the situation into a matter where the individual who was refused service sustained a broken nose and others were left with bruises and abrasions,” according to a news release from the AG’s office.

David Pitts, 21, of Wilmington told investigators that Christopher started the fight, used racial slurs and beat him, breaking his nose.

Pitts, who is black, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Oscar Chapman, 21, of Newark claimed he came to Pitts’ defense after Christopher attacked him, leading to a separate fight with Clemons.

Chapman is Hispanic.

Clemons’ attorney, Joe Hurley, said the right decision had been made not to press charges, but the officer’s name has already been damaged.

“You can’t undo what’s been done,” Hurley said. “It’s not fair.”

Hurley has said his client was simply attempting to prevent an attack on Christopher.

State prosecutor Richard Andrews said a Sussex County prosecutor reviewed the statements collected by Wilmington police and conducted interviews in determining whether anyone involved should be charged.

An unidentified man who answered the phone at Christopher’s home said no one would comment and hung up.

Because several of the witnesses and two of the participants in the fight were members of the police force, Andrews said he decided to have the review conducted by a prosecutor who does not regularly interact with those officers.

Clemons was reassigned to full duty after being put on paid leave while the incident was investigated, state police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh said.

Christopher has also returned to duty, city spokesman John Rago said, but an internal investigation is ongoing.

Wilmington City Councilman Mike Brown, who has been vocal about the incident, said he will be asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate the incident. Brown had initially asked federal prosecutors to investigate the accusations but was told any action would have to wait until after local authorities completed their investigation.

“I’m shocked, but then I’m not shocked,” Brown said. “I knew that this would be the outcome, that there would be no findings.”