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Jury to return Thursday for former Inkster cop trial

Oralandar Brand-Williams

Jurors deliberations began Wednesday in the trial of former Inkster Officer William Melendez.

They left for the day after deliberating for an hour Wednesday and will return at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Closing arguments in the case that garnered national headlines after a video surfaced of Melendez beating black motorist Floyd Dent were held earlier Wednesday.

The videotaped beating was among a string of highly publicized beatings of mostly African-Americans by police officers over the past year. The incidents have brought into focus the issue of how much force by officers is reasonable or excessive.

The issue of race has come into play during the trial as the volunteer officer who rode with Melendez during the controversial stop admitted on the stand to taking part in racist text messages.

There are seven African-Americans and eight women on the jury.

Melendez, who denies wrongdoing, is charged with misconduct in office, assault with intent to do great bodily harm and strangulation, which could potentially put him behind bars for up to 10 years.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Donaldson told jurors Melendez abused his power as an officer when he beat Dent during a stop in Inkster on the evening of Jan. 28.

“The case is about power,” Donaldson said. “(Melendez) abused the power that was entrusted to him. If Mr. Dent was a deranged crackhead he still wouldn’t have deserved what happened to him.”

Donaldson maintained Dent, 58, did not have drugs on him and did not have drugs in his system the night he was beaten.

“(Defense attorney James C. Thomas) wants you to believe he deserves what he got,” Donaldson told the jury Wednesday. “He’s just a doper. It’s not OK unless it’s reasonable. It’s not about whether you like Mr. Dent or dislike him. It’s not about whether you like Mr. Melendez. It’s about whether he crossed the line. It’s about whether the force is reasonable.”

Donaldson said Melendez’ defense team tried to present a “dirty” image of Dent to justify the actions of Melendez.

Thomas told jurors that hospital records showed Dent had cocaine in his system. Thomas portrayed Dent as a drug user who allegedly was observed by Melendez coming out of a seedy motel on Michigan Avenue in an area allegedly known for crime and drug use.

Thomas told jurors the prosecutor “got his view and I’ve got mine.”

Thomas told the jury Melendez was doing his job and did not do anything out of order. He said Melendez and the other officer in the car Jan. 28 did not know if Dent had a gun or contraband when he opened the car with one hand when he was stopped by the officers. Dent has maintained he opened the car and showed both hands.

“He got hit 16 times in the head and he continued to struggle,” Thomas said. “Mr. Dent continued to struggle.”

Thomas portrayed Dent during the incident as someone full of rage who resisted officers saying Melendez had a “right” to hit him in the head.

“The use of force (was) reasonable,” Thomas said.

Melendez did not take the stand in his defense.

On Tuesday, jurors took a driving tour of key locations surrounding the beating.

Two vans carrying the jurors spent about 25 minutes in the vicinity of Michigan Avenue and Fairbairn near the Inkster Police Department. None of the jurors got out of the vans at the locations.

Melendez did not go on the tour.

Several clips of Melendez repeatedly hitting Dent, a longtime Ford Motor Co. employee, after he was pulled over, were shown during the trial.

The issue of Dent’s manner of driving has come up during the trial. Dent said he swerved that night to avoid the rough road which, he said, has potholes.

Dent and his attorney reached a $1.4 million settlement with the city over the incident.

bwilliams@detnews.com

(313) 222-2027