Prosecutor tells jurors ex-Michigan cop abused position

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2015 7:06 AM

By Serena Maria Daniels

DETROIT (Reuters) - A prosecutor in the trial of a former suburban Detroit police officer charged with beating a black motorist told jurors on Wednesday that the violent video of the traffic stop shows the officer is guilty of abusing his position.

The officer, William 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.

Melendez could be seen on a police dashboard camera video placing Floyd Dent, 58, in a chokehold and punching him in the head several times, in one of a number of incidents across the United States that have fueled a national debate on race and policing.

During closing arguments in the Melendez trial on Wednesday, assistant Wayne County prosecutor Robert Donaldson countered a defense contention that Dent was driving erratically on cocaine in a crime-filled neighborhood, urging jurors to look at the video evidence.

"We have an exquisite form of corroboration: a video," Donaldson said. "The defense in the worst way wants it to go away and think about something else."

Defense attorney James Thomas said that Melendez's actions were reasonable. He pointed to Dent's several arrests for driving with a suspended license, his stopping at his friend's house to get high on cocaine and an outstanding warrant to show that Dent did not want to get caught.

The defense has also claimed that Dent resisted arrest.

Donaldson called into question the defense testimony of volunteer police officer John Zieleniewski, who was with Melendez at the time of the incident, saying Zieleniewski is a racist.

"He has a bias, he hates black people, he jokes about beating them up," Donaldson said. "Nothing is funny about this."

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

Dent testified during the trial that he feared for his life during the incident and begged Melendez to stop. He struggled to answer questions on the stand because he said his injuries have made it difficult for him to process information.

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.

Jury deliberations began on Wednesday afternoon and will resume on Thursday morning.

(Reporting by Serena Maria Daniels; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Sandra Maler, Andrew Hay and Steve Orlofsky)