DETROIT (AP) — An expert testifying Wednesday for a police officer charged with assault defended the repeated beating of a motorist in suburban Detroit, saying it was "reasonable" based on the man's resistance to arrest.
Aaron Westrick, a sheriff's deputy and criminal justice professor, looked at dashcam video, which is critical to the case, and said Floyd Dent made suspicious moves in his car as officers approached and didn't cooperate after he was pulled to the ground.
Dent, 58, was punched in the head 16 times during a bloody beating in January by Inkster Officer William Melendez, who is charged with assault and misconduct in office. Another officer used a Taser at least three times.
"It appears Mr. Dent's hands come up in a punching motion," Westrick said. "I would say he's actively resisting. ... He's actually fighting to get away from the officers."
Asked by defense attorney James Thomas if the force was reasonable, Westrick replied: "Use of force was reasonable, yes."
The incident wasn't publicly known for weeks until WDIV-TV aired the video. Inkster fired Melendez and quickly agreed to pay $1.4 million to Dent. Vicki Yost, the police chief at the time, told jurors Tuesday that the beating wasn't justified, based on the video.
Westrick was a sheriff's deputy in southeastern Michigan before becoming a professor at Lake Superior State University in the Upper Peninsula. He survived a shooting early in his career and still works as a deputy in Charlevoix County during summer.
Prosecutor Robert Donaldson sought to portray him as pro-police and a "professional Monday morning quarterback." Westrick, who has a radio show in Sault Ste. Marie, said he often expresses opinions in favor of police but "not always."
"Is it unusual for somebody getting strangled to reach up and get rid of what's strangling him?" Donaldson asked, referring to Dent's arm movement.
No, said Westrick, who expects to receive $4,000 to $5,000 for his work on Melendez's defense.
Despite the grilling, he stuck to his belief that Melendez acted properly.
"When you're in a situation like that, many things come into play," Westrick told jurors.
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