Cop faces added assault charge in beating
Inkster — A judge Thursday ruled a former police officer captured on video beating a motorist will stand trial on charges of misconduct in office and assault with intent to do great bodily harm.
Judge Sabrina Johnson also allowed the prosecution's request for an additional charge of assault by strangulation, which is a 10-year felony.
Motorist Floyd Dent was the only witness called during William Melendez's preliminary examination in 22nd District Court before Johnson, who bound the case over for trial. Melendez is due in Circuit Court on June 10 for an arraignment.
The judge ordered Melendez to stand trial after she reviewed video of the arrest, which captured the officer beating Dent after his car was pulled over Jan. 28. Melendez said he found cocaine on Dent, who was charged with drug possession and resisting and obstructing. Both charges were later dismissed.
Dent and attorneys say he was racially profiled and officers used excessive force in January 28, 2015 arrest. This video was released by his attorney Greg Rohl.
During discussions in the courtroom before the preliminary examination, James Thomas, Melendez's attorney, said he sought medical records that he said indicated a urine sample Dent gave at Garden City Hospital showed he had cocaine and opiates in his system. He also said Dent had been arrested nine times prior to the incident.
"An important issue in this case is whether Officer Melendez was justified at the time," Thomas said. "He proceeded to engage with an increase of force.
"If he has a suspended license and has been arrested on nine occasions ... he would have a motive to resist. We believe that's relevant ... whether or not Mr. Dent would escalate his behavior."
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Donaldson pointed out there are instances where a urine test can show a false positive drug result. During a recess, Dent's attorney in a civil lawsuit, Greg Rohl, claimed Garden City Hospital staff conspired with police to check a box that said Dent was under the influence of drugs. Rohl said he plans to sue the hospital.
After a short sidebar, Dent took the witness stand, and insisted during questioning by Donaldson he was not on drugs.
Dent also described the traffic stop, saying he drove a short distance after seeing the squad car's lights, in order to pull into a lighted area.
"When I pulled over, I opened my door," Dent said. "That's when officers came to the car and said, 'Get out the car.' An officer grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out the car."
"(Melendez) told me get out the car or he'll kill me. So I got out the car, he snatched my arm and threw me to the ground. He started to choke me … and he choked me so hard I couldn't breathe. I told him I couldn't breathe. Then he started hitting me on the right side of my head."
After the incident, Dent was treated at Garden City Hospital, where he stayed for three days. "I had a broken bone over my eye … four broke ribs; and blood on the brain," he said.
Dent said he still suffers from the beating. "Sometimes I have loss of memory. I can't really think straight." He said he didn't have those problems before the incident.
The judge called for a two-hour recess to review the evidence. When court reconvened, she denied the defense's request for medical and psychological records, because she said the purpose of the preliminary examination was to simply determine whether or not a crime had been committed.
During cross-examination, Thomas said video would disprove Dent's claim he was coming from a friend's apartment when he was stopped. Rather, Thomas said, Dent left a nearby Budget Inn, where the attorney claimed Dent bought cocaine.
Thomas said Dent resisted arrest because he had been arrested several times before, and didn't want to go to jail. "There was cocaine taken out of the car," he said.
"You have a sworn police officer, who has the authority when he's faced with resisting arrest, who has qualified immunity. There's no audio ... the only truth that's going to be spoken is what you see from him, and what it is you see that's inconsistent with what he says."
Donaldson said Thomas was trying to confuse the issue.
"Whether or not there was cocaine in the car, or cocaine in his system, is irrelevant to the crimes being charged," he said. "I think it's designed is to take the fact-finder's focus off ... whether or not the strangling of this gentleman was justified."
Meanwhile, Dent has settled with the city for nearly $1.4 million over the incident.
Melendez was fired last month from the Inkster department. Earlier this month, Inkster Officer Chuck Randazzo was suspended for 15 days and Sgt. Shawn Kritzer was suspended for 30 days after their alleged involvement in the arrest.
"To many people in this region and across the country, police brutality appears to be out of control," Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said during an April press conference when she announced the charges against Melendez. "It eradicates the confidence that's been built in those communities where good work has been done (by police) to establish those relationships."
After Melendez was arraigned, his attorney, David Lee, urged people to keep open minds about what they saw on the video.
"We're obviously concerned," he said. "We know people have seen and heard a lot and we just hope everyone will withhold judgment and leave things up to the final arbiter."
A separate lawsuit, filed in federal court Wednesday by Northville resident William Kirk, claims Melendez — who is referred to as "Robocop" in the filing, his nickname while working as a Detroit Police Officer — and fellow Inkster cop Brian Shafer, unnecessarily used a stun gun on him, and assaulted him while he was in a holding cell awaiting trial on car theft charges on June 6, 2014.
The lawsuit also claims Inkster police conspired to hold off taking Kirk's booking photo so his injuries would not be seen.