Beaten motorist testifies in ex-Inkster officer's trial

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
William Melendez in court Thursday.

The motorist whose videotaped beating by an Inkster police officer sparked national attention testified Thursday that William Melendez threatened to shoot him in the head, then beat and choked him during a January traffic stop.

Floyd Dent, 58, of Detroit, described what happened the night of Jan. 28 while on the witness stand in Wayne County Circuit Court, where Melendez is being tried on charges of misconduct in office, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and strangulation, a 10-year felony.

Dent, a longtime Ford employee, spoke with a stammer at times but plainly about the traffic stop and the ensuing encounter with Melendez and several other law enforcement officers.

"I didn't resist," he said. "The officers choked me for so long, I passed out for a minute."

Dent said he was going to drop off beer and liquor for a blind friend when he stopped at a stop sign in the area of Michigan Avenue and Fairbairn in Inkster. He said a police cruiser pulled him over a short distance from the intersection.

"I pulled over to the right. I opened the driver's door and held both arms out to let the officers know I didn't have any weapons," Dent testified.

Dent admitted driving on a suspended driver's license but denied resisting officers' efforts to handcuff him.

He said he opened the driver's door as Melendez and another officer, who has been identified as volunteer auxiliary police officer John Zieleniewski, approached.

Dent said Melendez, holding a gun, told him, "Get out the car or I'll blow your (expletive) head off."

He testified he was immediately thrown to the ground and repeatedly hit in the head, kicked and shot with a stun gun.

"(Melendez) started choking me. He started beating me in the head," Dent said as jurors listened intently.

He said the officer had a "shiny object" in his hand while he was hitting him.

"I couldn't breathe. He had me in a strangling position," Dent said. "He had his arm under my throat trying to cut off my windpipe. I was trying to catch my breath and I was moving my head."

He said he asked the officers as they stood him up to be handcuffed, "Why did you beat me like this?"

Dent said he wasn't high on drugs or drunk during the incident. He said he did not attack Melendez, as claimed by Zieleniewski.

Earlier Thursday, Judge Vonda Evans agreed to admit into evidence racist text messages sent to Zieleniewski.

Under questioning from Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Donaldson, Zieleniewski admitted he "might" have referred to Dent as a "piece of (expletive)" about a month following the traffic stop.

Zieleniewski, who is a full-time railroad worker, also admitted on the witness stand Thursday to taking part in racial jokes and using racial slurs to refer to African-Americans.

A text message Zieleniewski received in March asked him, "give me the satisfaction of knowing you are out there beating (racial slur for African-American) right now." He replied: "LOL ... just got done with one."

Evans, at the request of defense attorney James C. Thomas, told jurors Zieleniewski's remarks should not be taken into consideration when they deliberate about Melendez's verdict.

Zieleniewski testified that Dent was aggressive during efforts to handcuff him, saying Dent was "scooting" as officers had him pinned down. He also said Dent also threatened to "kill" him as the man was taken to the ground.

He said officers used the stun gun on Dent in the stomach and thigh area.

Zieleniewski said Dent struck Melendez in the face with an open hand, which Dent denied.

Dent and his attorney reached a $1.4 million settlement with the city of Inkster over the beating.