DETROIT (AP) — A Detroit-area police officer whose bloody beating of a motorist was captured on dashcam video was sentenced to at least 13 months in prison Tuesday, with the judge rebuking him for "Dirty Harry tactics" but still handing down a punishment significantly below the guidelines.
William Melendez was an Inkster police officer a year ago when he stopped Floyd Dent, whose car had rolled past a stop sign.
Dent, 58, was pulled from his car and then punched in the head 16 times by Melendez. He suffered broken ribs, blood on his brain and other injuries.
The violent incident was recorded on a dashcam, but it wasn't known publicly until weeks later when WDIV-TV aired the video. Inkster quickly agreed to pay $1.4 million to Dent, and assault charges against the veteran officer followed.
"You utilized your 'Dirty Harry' tactics and used excessive force. ... The way you denigrated that man was awful," Wayne County Judge Vonda Evans said, referring to the hard-edged police character made popular in several films by Clint Eastwood.
"Who would know and who would care about a lone black man being assaulted by upstanding police officers?" she added. "Boy, were you wrong."
Melendez, 47, broke his silence and expressed remorse after declining to testify at trial.
"To Mr. Dent and his family, I am truly sorry," he said as Dent watched from the front row in court.
Melendez finished his remarks by reading "The Final Inspection," a poem that refers to a soldier or officer who wasn't a "saint" but is welcomed to heaven because, "You've done your time in hell."
In a statement read by a family member, Dent told the judge that Melendez served as "the judge, the jury and executioner" that night in Inkster.
"You were going to pull me over regardless of how I was driving," Dent said. "Why? Because I was a black man in a Cadillac."
The judge noted a lack of proper police training and low pay scales in some communities where officers make less than mall security guards. But she also said Melendez had carried out "cowardly acts of barbaric behavior" that were inexcusable.
"There's an old sayin': It ain't no fun when a rabbit's got the gun," Evans said. "It's equally applicable when he has the video — the eye of justice in this case."
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Tuesday in a statement that "improper, predatory and illegal police conduct will not be tolerated."
"The vast majority of police officers are hard-working law enforcers," Worthy said. "Former officer Melendez ?was not one of them."
The sentencing guidelines called for a minimum of 29 months to 57 months in prison, but the judge had the authority to go with less time. Melendez's maximum punishment is 10 years in prison.
It's up to the parole board to decide when to release Melendez once he's eligible after 13 months. He'll get credit for about three months served in jail since his assault conviction in November.
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