Conviction of Delaware Deputy Chief Upheld

The conviction of a former Delaware deputy chief on charges that he engaged in sexual activities with an under-age junior firefighter has been upheld by the New Castle County Superior Court. Dwayne Pearson sought to have his conviction overturned because the charges were unconstitutionally vague, or alternatively that he did not fit within the class of people listed in the statute as being in a position of trust, authority or supervision.

Pearson, 39, was a deputy chief with the Belvedere Fire Department when the relationship occurred. The victim, 15 at the time, was in training with the Mill Creek Fire Department. They reportedly met during joint training between the fire companies. As explained in the decision:

  • Pearson engaged in sexual intercourse with M.M., a child who was under the age of sixteen.
  • Pearson was the Deputy Fire Chief of Belvedere Fire Department and M.M. was a trainee of the Mill Creek Fire Department.
  • Pearson was indicted by the grand jury on March 27, 2023, and the case proceeded to trial on January 22, 2024.
  • At the conclusion of the trial Pearson was convicted of Count I: Sexual Abuse of a Child by a Person of Trust Authority or Supervision in the First Degree; Count II: Rape In the Second Degree; Count III: Sexual Abuse of a Child by a Person in a Position of Trust Authority or Supervision in the First Degree; Count IV: Rape In the Fourth Degree; Count V: Sexual Abuse of a Child by a Person in a Position of Trust Authority or Supervision in the Second Degree; Count VI: Unlawful Sexual Contact Second Degree.
  • Pearson’s Motion for Judgment of Acquittal asserts that the language of 11 Del. C. § 778 and 11 Del. C. § 761 is unconstitutionally vague and in the alternative, he does not fit within the class of people listed in the statute.
  • Pearson contends the case should have not gone to the jury under 11 Del. C. § 778 and 11 Del. C. § 761 because the statute defines a “person in a position of trust, supervision, or authority” by categories and therefore, is unconstitutionally vague both in its language and application that provides Pearson with no notice of crimes beyond the enumerated sections of the statute.
  • Pearson further argues the State’s evidence was insufficient to go to the jury to prove that he was “a person in a position of trust, supervision, or authority,” even when the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to the State.
  • A statute is void for vagueness if it fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that the contemplated behavior is forbidden or if it encourages arbitrary or erratic enforcement.
  • As proscribed by 11 Del. C. § 778 and defined under 11 Del. C. § 761(7), a person is “[i]n a position of trust… ‘because of that person’s profession, employment, vocation, avocation, or volunteer service [and] has regular direct contact with the child or children and in the course there of assumes responsibility, whether temporarily or permanently, for the care of supervision of a child or children.'”
  • The witnesses’ testimony at trial confirms the jury’s verdict that Mr. Pearson was a person in a position of trust.
  • The facts on the record support that Pearson met with M.M. while actively working in the capacity as a Deputy Chief of Belvedere Fire Company and holding himself out to the public and M.M. that he maintained a degree of responsibility over M.M. in his official capacity as Deputy Chief of Belvedere Fire Company.
  • The facts on the record indicate that Mr. Pearson, while working in his capacity as a Deputy Chief of the Belvedere Fire Company, is included in the nonexclusive list enumerated in 11 Del. C. § 761(e)(7) as a “person in a position of trust … because of [his] profession, employment… or volunteer service [and had] regular direct contact with the child… in the course of [his] assumed responsibility, whether temporarily or permanently.”
  • Thus, the challenged list in 11 Del. C. § 761(e) is inclusive of the behavior that defines a “person in a position of trust.”
  • The plain language of 11 Del. C. § 761(e)(7)’s nonexclusive list provides an idea of what types of classes were contemplated by the legislature as being a person in a “position of trust, authority, and supervision.”
  • Additionally, even if Mr. Pearson was not explicitly included in the list, the statutory construction principal of ejusdem generis designates that a list of examples given can create an assumed prohibition of activity of other similar nature.

Here is a copy of the decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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