Black motorist beaten by Michigan ex-policeman says feared for his life

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 05, 2015 5:49 PM

By Serena Maria Daniels

DETROIT (Reuters) - A black motorist shown in a videotape being beaten by a former suburban Detroit policeman in January during a traffic stop said on Thursday that he thought Officer William Melendez was trying to kill him.

During his hour-long testimony on the second day of Melendez's criminal trial, Floyd Dent, 58, struggled to answer questions because he said his injuries have made it difficult for him to process information.

Melendez, 47, has pleaded not guilty to charges of misconduct in office, assault with intent to do great bodily harm, and strangulation during the Jan. 28 incident in Inkster, Michigan.

"I begged him to stop. I can't breath. He was trying to kill me," Dent told jurors from the witness stand. "He choked me so hard I couldn't catch my breath."

Dent said that Melendez had his gun drawn as he approached his Cadillac, and told him to get out of the car or he would blow his head off.

Melendez could be seen punching Dent in the head several times on a police dashboard camera video, one of a number of incidents across the United States that have fueled a national debate on race and policing. The trial, in Wayne County Circuit Court, is expected to last about two weeks.

Melendez, who could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison in convicted, was fired in April from the Detroit suburb's police force.

Prosecutors, in an opening statement on Wednesday, said Melendez abused his power as a police officer during the traffic stop when he hit Dent 16 times in the head "for no apparent reason." They also showed jurors the video of the traffic stop.

Melendez's defense attorney James Thomas in his opening statement on Wednesday urged jurors to keep in mind that his client had been conducting surveillance in a high-crime area and said that Dent's movements fit those of someone fetching drugs. Thomas also said Dent actively resisted arrest.

Dent testified that he had driven to Inkster that night to pick up beer and liquor for a friend and his girlfriend.

Under cross-examination by Thomas, Dent denied several times that he had been high on cocaine that night.

Dent earlier this year reached a $1.4 million settlement in a civil lawsuit against Inkster, which has a majority black population but a majority white police force.

The trial is scheduled to recess on Friday and resume on Monday.

(Writing by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Eric Walsh)