Melendez guilty of assault in beating of motorist

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Nine months after graphic videotape surfaced showing a Detroit man being beaten during a traffic stop, the Inkster police officer accused in the attack has been found guilty.

William Melendez, who was fired from the force after the incident, was convicted Thursday on assault and misconduct charges in the beating of Floyd Dent, who is African-American, during a traffic stop Jan. 28 on a lonely Inkster street off Michigan Avenue. He was acquitted of a third charge of strangulation.

Melendez showed little emotion as the verdict was read. But the conviction and immediate jailing of Melendez sent his wife running from the courtroom. His father and other supporters looked stunned.

“He still remains upbeat and resolved,” said Melendez’s attorney, James C. Thomas, who added he was disappointed with the verdict. “His fate was in everybody else’s hands and that’s how it should be.”

He said he’s certain Melendez will “follow through on his appeal.”

Thomas added “we had raised several issues during the trial ... and the result obviously is disappointing.”

Melendez did not take the stand in his defense.

The video of the traffic stop beating went viral on social media and sparked protests over police brutality. It was one of a number of cases around the country in which police were accused of abusing power during interactions with suspects.

The incidents sparked a national debate on the issue of how much force by police officers is reasonable and whether white cops were treating black suspects more harshly.

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

Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans, who presided over the two-week trial, said: “There are no winners and no losers” in the verdict.

Melendez was remanded to jail after Evans revoked his $25,000 bond and his sentencing hearing is Dec. 3. Thomas said the former police officer was “sad” over the verdict and immediate jailing.

Melendez left the courtroom without commenting. His dad also refused to comment. The former police officer’s wife left the courtroom visibly upset but was ordered back in by Evans.

“Don’t do my courtroom like that. That was disrespectful. There’s a lot going on and there’s an appropriate way to handle it,” Evans told her. “This is your husband, and he’s dealing with a lot and for you to storm out this courtroom like you’re a kid is unacceptable.”

The assault charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence, the misconduct charge a maximum five-year sentence.

Dent’s attorney, Gregory Rohl, said he was “elated” over the verdict. He said Dent’s family discouraged him from appearing in court to hear the verdict. Rohl said Melendez had no justification for repeatedly hitting Dent in the head and added he believed the beating was partly racially motivated.

“It could be a kilo of cocaine in that car, what justified that man ... to beat (Dent) like an animal,” Rohl said. “If he was a white guy would it happen? I don’t think so.”

Dent, a veteran Ford Motor Co. worker, and Rohl plan to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Friday to discuss the verdict.

The jury deliberated for four hours over two days before coming to a decision. A thick air of tension and anticipation hung in the air in Evans’ packed eighth-floor courtroom before the jurors returned with their verdict.

Evans told the jury she was “proud” of them because it proved that people from different backgrounds could reach a decision in the case.

There were seven African-Americans and eight women on the jury. Evans said they did not want to comment about the verdict.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said: “Public confidence in law enforcement is eroded when police officers abuse citizens. The jury’s verdict in this case is important because it shows that police brutality cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Earlier Thursday, jurors said in a note they were struggling with one of the counts, strangulation. Evans told them to continue deliberating until they were unanimous.

Last week, the former Inkster police chief testified for the defense that Melendez did not put Dent, 58, in a chokehold but merely tried another form of restraining him.

Melendez has denied wrongdoing in the incident. He was accused of using excessive force in hitting Dent in the head 16 times after the traffic stop.

Thomas said “it’s impossible” to deny other incidents across the country didn’t play some role in the trial.

During the Melendez trial, the issue of race came into focus after Melendez’s partner, John Zieleniewski, testified he took part in racist texts about African-Americans and police stops.

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