DETROIT (AP) - A white, former Detroit-area police officer was found guilty Thursday of assault and misconduct in the bloody beating of a black driver during a traffic stop that was captured on video.
Wayne County jurors handed down the verdict in the case against William Melendez, who was charged in the January beating of Floyd Dent. Police stopped Dent, 58, in the Detroit suburb of Inkster for disregarding a stop sign, and dashcam video from a police vehicle shows Melendez punching him 16 times in the head.
It wasn't until after WDIV-TV aired the footage in March that Melendez was fired. Inkster later agreed to pay $1.4 million to Dent, who suffered broken ribs, blood on his brain and other injuries.
The jurors found Melendez guilty of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and of misconduct in office. They cleared him of a charge of assault by strangulation.
The packed courtroom was largely quiet after the verdict was read, following Judge Vonda Evans' orders to neither "cry out" nor "applaud" out of respect for the jury. Melendez's wife rushed out of the courtroom, invoking Evans' ire and a demand that she return and "sit down."
Evans ordered Melendez to jail pending his Dec. 3 sentencing. Beforehand, defense attorney James Thomas argued that Melendez "is not a danger to the community" and posed "no risk of flight."
Thomas told reporters after the verdict that despite his disappointment, Melendez "remains upbeat" and "resolved." Thomas said he plans to appeal the verdict after sentencing.
Melendez did not testify during the eight-day trial, but his attorney said the officer was justified in the assault because Dent was aggressive and resisting police. Other officers and a criminal justice professor testified that the beating was reasonable because Dent was resisting arrest.
But Vicki Yost, who was chief of police at the time of the beating, said Melendez's actions were unnecessary, based on the video.
Dent has a long history of driving violations and was driving with a suspended license, according to evidence the defense presented at trial. Charges against Dent, including resisting arrest and possession of drugs, were dropped. Dent said police planted drugs in his car.
Thomas told jurors that a urine test taken at the hospital suggested Dent had been using cocaine before the traffic stop. But Wayne County's medical examiner, Dr. Carl Schmidt, testified that he didn't believe that to be the case based on a negative blood test processed by state police.
Killings of unarmed black men by white police officers have touched off a national debate about police conduct, which has only escalated as additional interactions between police and suspects are captured on video by law enforcement or civilians. The release of the Inkster video spurred protests that included calls for Melendez and others to be fired.
Inkster has a population of 25,000 and is 73 percent black.
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