As ex-Inkster police officer William Melendez known as Robocop stared ahead in a Detroit courtroom today, he heard the word guilty, twice.
A jury convicted Melendez of two felonies — misconduct in office and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder — after watching patrol car dashcam video during his trial showing Melendez punch motorist Floyd Dent, who is black, 16 times during a traffic stop on Jan. 28.
Shortly after the verdict was announced in the packed courtroom, Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans revoked Melendez’s bond and he was taken into custody.
The jury, made up of eight women and four men, including seven African-American jurors, deliberated for about five hours and acquitted Melendez on a third charge of assault by strangulation.
“I’m proud of you because you made a decision,“ Evans told the jury before they left the courtroom. “The decision that you made reflected what your belief was.”
Melendez, whose family was in the courtroom, sat quietly as the verdict was read, showing little emotion.
Evans told Melendez it was time to “accept responsibility and move on with his life, so that this community can heal from the situation.”
Before she remanded him to the Wayne County Jail, Melendez’s attorney, James Thomas, argued against his bond being revoked. He said Melendez is not a flight risk, appeared in court every time he was supposed to, and no longer has the power to arrest.
Melendez’s wife, Kerry Melendez, abruptly left the courtroom after her husband’s bond was revoked. Evans ordered her to come back in, said storming out was disrespectful and unacceptable, and told her to sit back down. Moments later, the hearing ended.
“Of course we’re disappointed in the verdict,” Thomas said outside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.
He said he plans to ask the judge to depart from the sentencing guidelines. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 3. Assault with intent to do great bodily harm is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while the other offense carries a maximum 5-year penalty.
The case comes during a time when there is a national spotlight on police brutality involving African Americans, including several high-profile cases where citizens have died at the hands of police officers.
After the verdict was announced, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy released a statement saying “public confidence in law enforcement is eroded when police officers abuse citizens.”
“The jury’s verdict in this case is important because it shows that police brutality cannot and will not be tolerated,” the statement said.
Melendez will be in protective custody and kept away from other inmates while in custody, said Paula Bridges, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Jail.
During the trial, the prosecution argued that Melendez abused his power and said the force he used on Dent was not reasonable. But the defense said that Dent, who was driving without a valid license, struggled with police during his arrest and said Melendez’s use of force was reasonable. The defense also alleged Dent had used cocaine before his arrest, but the prosecution said there was no evidence of that.
Before the verdict was reached Thursday, the jury sent out a note saying they hadn’t reached a unanimous decision on the assault by strangulation count and asked, “What should we do from here?”
They were sent back to continue deliberations.
Dent, who testified that he didn’t resist that night, reached a $1,377,500 settlement with Inkster in the case earlier this year.
“This incident was in violation of city policy and procedures,” Inkster’s interim city manager, Mark Stuhldreher, said in an e-mail after the verdict was issued.
Melendez was fired from his job after video of Dent’s arrest became public.
Criminal charges were issued against Dent after his arrest, but they have since been dismissed. Dent was not in court today, but his attorney Gregory Rohl attended.
“I’m elated that the jury had the courage to find an officer who did such a dastardly deed guilty,” Rohl said.
He said Dent is doing well physically but still has some issues mentally. The longtime Ford worker hasn’t returned to his job yet, he said.
Outside the courthouse, Bill Wells of Detroit said he wants Melendez to spend “a long time in prison.”
The 44-year-old, who said he lived in Inkster for 17 years, hopes the verdict sends a message.
“I’m so elated that justice was finally served,” he said.