The sound of engines revving briefly filled Wilmington’s Hilltop neighborhood Saturday afternoon when members of the Pagan Motorcycle Club gathered to remember a man who was shot and killed by a Wilmington police officer 13 years ago.
About 30 members gathered near the steps of a home in the 1400 block of W. Sixth St., where Derek J. Hale was shot to death by Lt. William Browne during an investigation of the motorcycle club. Browne was cleared of any wrongdoing by the state’s Attorney General’s Office in 2007.
The group’s motorcycles filled the block, arranged in two long lines between parked cars as the club’s leader, Paul Fitzwater, shared a few words with the motorcyclists and residents looking on from their porches.
After less than 10 minutes, their engines roared and the group left.
“We do this every year, and we do it out of respect and remembrance to Derek. It was such an injustice,” Fitzwater said.
“We’re not here to start trouble; we’re here to send a message.”
Hale, a 25-year-old former Marine and member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club from Virginia, was sitting on the steps of another Pagan’s home when police surrounded him and stunned him with stun guns before shooting him.
A witness told investigators that Hale said “in a low raspy voice” that he was trying to comply with the officers’ demands to remove his hands from his hooded sweatshirt pockets.
Witnesses said Hale did not appear to pose a threat, adding that he had just vomited and was shaking violently when Browne shot him in the chest three times.
Hale was a decorated Marine who had served two tours in Iraq. He had a son and a daughter.
In 2010, Wilmington settled a lawsuit filed by Hale’s widow, Elaine Hale. She agreed to drop a federal lawsuit against Wilmington after she received $875,000 from the city.
Since 2005, the Delaware Department of Justice has completed 50 police use-of-force investigations, all of which were for officer-involved shootings.
That number does not include an ongoing investigation regarding the August officer shooting of 35-year-old Ricardo Hylton. Police said Hylton was armed and “actively firing,” when they arrived at 28th and Washington streets in response to a report of shots fired.