INKSTER, Michigan -- A former Inkster police officer shown on dashcam video pummeling an unarmed motorist during a traffic stop will face trial on assault and misconduct charges, a judge ruled Thursday. Meanwhile, the motorist has settled his lawsuit against the city for nearly $1.4 million, his lawyer said.
Ex-Inkster Officer William Melendez, 46, who was fired after pulling over auto worker Floyd Dent on Jan. 28, was held for trial on felony charges of misconduct in office and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. District Judge Sabrina Johnson also approved the prosecution's request to add assault by strangulation to the charges.
“I went to the ground, [and Melendez] started choking me,” testified Dent, 57, the only witness at Thursday's preliminary hearing. “He choked me so hard that I couldn’t breathe. … Then he started, he started beating me in the right side of my head." Dent, who was hesitant and soft-spoken on the witness stand, was hospitalized for three days after the beating.
Dent's attorney, Greg Rohl, confirmed outside the courtroom that the city of Inkster had agreed to settle Dent's lawsuit. The deal hasn't yet been approved by a judge.
Police dashcam video made public in March (watch below) shows Dent, whose license had been suspended, pulling over after a police car behind him activated its emergency lights. Dent opens his car door. Melendez draws his gun and a second officer pulls Dent from his car.
Melendez and the second officer force Dent onto the ground and Melendez, with his arm around Dent’s neck, is seen punching Dent in the head more than a dozen times. Other officers kick Dent and use a Taser on him.
Dent said he couldn’t see the officer who shot him with the stun gun.
“I heard somebody say, ‘Tase the motherfucker,’” Dent testified.
Melendez’s lawyer, James Thomas, said Dent's claims that he immediately showed both hands to officers approaching his car and didn't turn away after opening his car door weren't what the video shows. The lawyer also challenged Dent's contention that he was choked and briefly passed out.
“He turns away from the police officers and reaches to the right,” Thomas said. “Any reasonable police officer at that point would have drawn his weapon … and would have pulled him out of the car to neutralize him because he’s either in fear of him reaching for a weapon or discarding drugs.”
Thomas said Dent struggled as officers tried to subdue him, and had his hand hidden behind his back at his waistband. After the blows to Dent’s head, “it was necessary to tase him not once, not twice, not three times, but, according to him, four times, in order to get him to submit to what was a lawful arrest at the time,” Thomas said. “That’s graduated and escalating force in the face of resisting. Officer Melendez was a sworn police officer …. and he’s entitled to qualified immunity, and the prosecution has not rebutted that.”
Dent stood by his account, but appeared somewhat confused at times during the cross-examination. He testified that the arrest left him with injuries that included broken ribs and bleeding in his brain that has affected his memory and speech.
“I think that whether or not Mr. Dent was beaten and strangled within the confines of the law is a question of fact for the jury,” Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Donaldson said.
Dent was charged with obstructing police officers and possession of cocaine after the car stop. Both charges were later dropped. Dent and his lawyer have alleged that Melendez planted drugs in his car.
Dent has said repeatedly he didn't possess any drugs that night and hadn't used any. A hospital urine test was positive for cocaine, but the prosecutor said there were various reasons the test may have been inaccurate. A blood test showed no evidence of intoxication.
Melendez, who is free on bail, was fired by the city manager last month, before an internal police investigation of the car stop was finished.
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