A former Michigan police officer shown on dashcam video beating a man during a traffic stop has been charged with two felonies.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Monday that William Melendez, who was fired from the Inkster Police Department last week, has been charged with misconduct in office and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder for his treatment of Floyd Dent. The first felony charge carries a five-year maximum sentence, and the second has a 10-year maximum.
"We cannot turn our heads when the law enforcer becomes the law breaker," Worthy said at a morning press conference.
Dent, 57, was pulled over in Inkster, a suburb of Detroit, on Jan. 28. Dashcam video shows that within seconds of Melendez approaching Dent's car, the officer began beating him, hitting him in the head more than a dozen times. Other officers kicked Dent and used a Taser on him. He had to be hospitalized for several days because of the injuries he received.
Melendez, 46, later testified that Dent had said he was going to kill him, appeared to be under the influence of drugs and bit him. But Dent has said he didn't fight back.
Dent was initially charged with possession of cocaine and resisting and obstructing police. The resisting charge was dismissed by a judge last month, and Worthy said Monday that the drug charge would also be dropped “in the interest of justice.”
Dent claims that officers planted cocaine in his car, an allegation that Worthy declined to comment on at the press conference.
The traffic stop beating came to the prosecutor's attention only last month, she said, when the video was published by Click on Detroit. The Inkster Police Department asked for Michigan State Police to begin the independent investigation that would lead to Melendez being charged not when the traffic stop occurred, but on the day that it received media attention, Worthy said.
Melendez was fired from the Inkster Police Department last week, though he still works as a part-time officer for nearby Highland Park, according to the Detroit News.
The man has a history of misconduct allegations. Melendez is named in a pending lawsuit by Inkster resident Dashawn Acklin, who contends that officers entered a home he was visiting and, though he was compliant, choked and beat him until he lost consciousness. In 2004, while then a Detroit police officer, Melendez was acquitted on federal charges of stealing from suspected drug dealers and planting evidence. He was also involved in two fatal shootings of citizens while on the Detroit force.
“Public confidence in the law enforcement is eroded when police officers abuse citizens,” Worthy said Monday. "This devalues greatly the work that the majority of police officers in this country perform daily.”
The video of Dent’s arrest has sparked local protests and national scrutiny. He and his lawyer have said they believe race was a factor. Dent, who has no criminal record, is black, while most of the officers involved are white.
Recent incidents such as Dent’s beating have led to calls nationwide for cops to wear body cameras; many police departments, including Detroit’s, are experimenting with the technology. Yet one lawyer said that what he found notable about Dent's arrest is that officers knew it was being recorded, but that fact seemingly had no impact on their actions.
At the press conference Monday, one reporter asked how Worthy's decision to charge Melendez was affected by the existence of a video documenting the beating.
“We probably wouldn’t know about it [without the video]," she said.
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