DETROIT (AP) — A lawyer defending a Detroit-area police officer in the bloody beating of a driver urged jurors Wednesday to keep an open mind, despite dashcam video that shows the auto worker in a chokehold during 16 punches to the head.
Jurors heard opening statements in the trial of William Melendez, who repeatedly pummeled Floyd Dent during a traffic stop in Inkster last January.
Melendez was fired and charged with assault and misconduct in office after WDIV-TV aired the video two months later. Protesters marched outside the Inkster police department, the chief resigned and the city quickly agreed to a $1.4 million settlement with Dent.
The video is a crucial piece of evidence; prosecutor Robert Donaldson says Dent was "lucky" to have it. But defense attorney James Thomas asked the jury to watch for more than the beating.
He said Dent made a move to his right while in the car as officers approached, suggesting he was trying to hide something or reaching for a weapon.
"Tough job to be a cop anywhere," Thomas said. "They wear flak vests for a reason. It's dangerous out there, and Inkster is a dangerous city."
The jury saw the video at regular speed and at a much slower speed. Another video from the Inkster police lockup shows an officer wiping blood from Dent's head before a mugshot was taken.
Melendez was assisted by another officer who tried to handcuff Dent on the ground during the series of blows. More officers soon arrived.
Prosecutor Robert Donaldson said the case is about abuse of power.
"We give them enormous power," he said of police. "We give them the power to take our freedom. We give them power to take our lives. There are limits on that power. ... A police officer cannot act in an arbitrary and capricious way."
Donaldson said Dent, 58, rolled through a stop sign and was driving with a suspended license but has no criminal record.
Cocaine was found in Dent's Cadillac, but Dent claimed police planted it. All charges against him related to the stop were dismissed.
On the witness stand, state police Lt. Twana Powell said she was ordered to investigate Dent's beating two months after it happened. She acknowledged on cross-examination that Dent did not file a complaint with Inkster about the use of force.
Asked about a chokehold around Dent's neck, Powell read directly from the Inkster police manual, which says, "Chokeholds are strictly forbidden."
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