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Inkster police officer faces Oct. trial in beating

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — A former Inkster police officer was in court Friday for a motions hearing ahead of his October trial on charges stemming from a January traffic stop involving the bloody beating of a motorist.

William Melendez is scheduled for an Oct. 5 trial stemming from the Jan. 28 incident in which Floyd Dent was pulled from his car and beaten. Melendez is charged with misconduct in office, assault with intent to do great bodily harm, and strangulation, a 10-year felony. He denies wrongdoing.

Dent was charged with cocaine possession and resisting or assaulting an officer, but both charges were later dismissed. A $1.4 million settlement has been reached between Dent and the city.

At the hearing Friday, defense and prosecution teams sparred over several motions, including whether to admit evidence pointing to Dent’s possible prior drug use and information on the motorist’s settlement with Inkster.

Judge Vonda Evans disallowed both motions, but will admit evidence about Dent’s possible drug use the night of the incident, including medical records relating directly to the beating.

“Mr. Dent vehemently denies any cocaine use, and then we find it in his urine,” Evans said. “So to me, his credibility is kind of important.”

Evans also allowed mention of Dent’s 12 previous arrests, which defense attorneys argued will demonstrate Dent knew not to open his door during the traffic stop.

“I think that it goes to his familiarity with the procedure,” Evans said. “So I’ll allow it for that purpose.”

Testimony about any “peaceful trait” in Melendez also will be allowed at trial.

“I do think that the issue is the aggression of (Melendenz), as alleged,” Evans said to explain her ruling.

The hearing became tense as defense attorney James Thomas requested the trial date be postponed to allow him to recover from a recent eye injury that may require surgery.

Everybody, except for you, has put my trials off,” Thomas said in court.

Evans repeatedly denied the motion.

“I have ruled. That is my ruling. And what we can do is accept that ruling, or not,” Evans said. “Oct. 5, we are going to trial.”

Melendez is due back in court Sept. 9 for the judge’s ruling on admitting information relating to a prior lawsuit against the former officer, brought by Inkster resident Deshawn Acklin.

Acklin is suing Melendez and six other officers in federal court over a 2011 arrest, where Acklin alleges he was choked and beaten until he lost consciousness.

Acklin never was charged with a crime, according to the lawsuit, which Acklin filed in 2013. The case alleges Melendez violated Acklin's constitutional rights and seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

The hearing Friday came almost three weeks after the Inkster Police Department hired a new police chief to replace former Chief Vicki Yost.

Yost resigned in April, days after Melendez was fired from the department and charged in the case.

William Riley was sworn in Aug. 10 as Inkster’s new chief. He previously held the top police position in Selma, Alabama, where he managed 55 sworn officers and 46 civilian personnel that included jailers, animal control officers and crossing guards, according to his online resume.

When Yost said she was leaving the department, she told The Detroit News that she and city officials disagreed on how to run the department in the wake of the videotaped arrest.

Following the resignation, the mayor and others described the need for stable leadership in the Police Department, which has seen two police chiefs leave in less than a year.

HFournier@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4616

@HollyPFournier