DETROIT (CBS Detroit/AP) Painting a lurid picture of a brutal white officer attacking a hapless black man, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans sentenced Inkster police officer William Melendez to 13 months to 10 years behind bars.
Melendez sat stoically in court Tuesday as Evans, in usual fighting form, unleashed a lengthy discussion of the acts he was convicted of.
“You utilized your Dirty Harry tactics and used excessive force to arrest him,” Evans told the officer.
“You were so into your bravado you forgot the eye of justice was watching and caught this, the dash cam that was designed to protect you ended up being what convicted you,” she added.
Evans said she got letters from various people testifying to Melendez’s high character and past acts of heroism, including saving people from a burning building.
Where was that man on the day Dent was beaten? “The way you denigrated that man was awful,” Evans said. “Who would know and who would care about a … black man being assaulted by upstanding police officers … Boy, were you wrong.”
Melendez was found guilty in November of assault and misconduct in the bloody beating of Dent during a traffic stop that was captured on video.
Police stopped Dent, 58, in Inkster for disregarding a stop sign, and dashcam video from a police vehicle shows Melendez punching him 16 times in the head.
It wasn’t until after WDIV-TV aired the footage in March that Melendez was fired. Inkster later agreed to pay $1.4 million to Dent, who suffered broken ribs, blood on his brain and other injuries.
The jurors found Melendez guilty of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and of misconduct in office.
Evans ordered Melendez to jail pending his sentencing. Beforehand, defense attorney James Thomas argued that Melendez “is not a danger to the community” and posed “no risk of flight.”
Thomas told reporters after the verdict that despite his disappointment, Melendez “remains upbeat” and “resolved.” Thomas said he plans to appeal the verdict after sentencing.
Melendez didn’t testify during the eight-day trial, but his attorney said the officer was justified in the assault because Dent was aggressive and resisting police. Other officers and a criminal justice professor testified that the beating was reasonable because Dent was resisting arrest.
But Vicki Yost, who was chief of police at the time of the beating, said Melendez’s actions were unnecessary, based on the video.
Dent has a long history of driving violations and was driving with a suspended license, according to evidence the defense presented at trial. Charges against Dent, including resisting arrest and possession of drugs, were dropped. Dent said police planted drugs in his car.
Thomas told jurors that a urine test taken at the hospital suggested Dent had been using cocaine before the traffic stop. But Wayne County’s medical examiner, Dr. Carl Schmidt, testified that he didn’t believe that to be the case based on a negative blood test processed by state police.
Killings of unarmed black men by white police officers have touched off a national debate about police conduct, which has only escalated as additional interactions between police and suspects are captured on video by law enforcement or civilians. The release of the Inkster video spurred protests that included calls for Melendez and others to be fired.
Inkster has a population of 25,000 and is 73 percent black.
“Only you and God can change your character,” Evans told Melendez.
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