A former Michigan police officer faces decades in prison on charges related to the videotaped beating of a suspect in a Detroit suburb.
William “Robocop” Melendez has been charged with two counts of assault to do bodily harm, misconduct in office and mistreatment of a prisoner, WDIV reported. The charges against the former Inkster, Michigan officer were announced April 20 by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
“The job of a peace officer can be dangerous,” she said at a press conference, according to the Detroit Free Press. “But we cannot tolerate those who abuse their authority, violate their oath and prey on citizens rather than protecting them. We cannot turn our heads when the law enforcer becomes the law breaker.”
The felony assault charges carry maximum 10-year prison sentences, while the others each carry five-year maximums.
The video of Melendez and other officers arresting Floyd Dent, a 57-year-old black father and Ford auto worker with no criminal history, went viral, leading to protests and drawing comparisons to the beating of Rodney King.
The charges against Dent were dropped, WDIV reports. The incident occurred January 23, 2015 and the investigation began in March after the video surfaced.
Inkster officials announced April 13 that Melendez has been dismissed from his position with the department, according to WDIV.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Melendez Put Dent Into a Chokehold & Hit Him in the Head 16 Times
According to police, Dent was was stopped for disregarding stop signs, the Associated Press reported. Police said he resisted arrest and threatened them. They also say a bag of crack cocaine was found in the car. The police report indicates that Dent arose the officers’ suspicion when he was spotted at a motel that is in a high-drug activity area. But Dent says he just stopped to visit a friend.
The dashcam video shows Dent pull over to the side of the road. He opens his door and is pulled out of the car by two officers, who shove him to the pavement. Dent, one the ground, is grabbed around the neck by one of the officers, identified in the police report as Melendez, while the other officer, an unidentified auxiliary officer, tried to handcuff him. Melendez can be seen punching Dent in the head 16 times while still holding him around the neck.
He is then hit with a stun gun three times by another officer and eventually dragged, bloodied, onto the hood of Melendez’s patrol car, where he can be heard saying “Why are you beating on me like this. I ain’t do nothing.”
Dent’s attorney, Gregory Rohl, told The Detroit News, “It’s simply an outrage. I haven’t seen the likes of this since Rodney King.”
According to The Associated Press, Melendez claims the situation escalated when he thought he saw Dent reaching for a weapon. There were no weapons found in the car. Melendez also said during the struggle on the ground, Dent bit him on the arm. Dent denies biting Melendez. The Detroit Free Press reports that police said Dent gave the officers a blank stare as if on narcotics when they asked him to show his hands and then said “I’ll kill you.” Dent also denies those accusations, and the audio of those moments is not available. Dent told the Free-Press the officer yelled, “Get out of the car! I’ll blow your head off!”
“I wasn’t resisting arrest,” Dent told the Associated Press. “When someone is beating your face, you’re going to protect yourself.”
Charges of fleeing and resisting arrest were dropped by a judge, the AP reports.
Dent suffered an orbital fracture and bleeding on the brain, his attorney told The Detroit News. Dent spent three days in the hospital.
2. Melendez Has Denied He Did Anything Wrong
In an interview with WXYZ-TV, Melendez denied that he did anything wrong.
“There are two sides to every story, and so far, the public has only seen one side because at the time I was unable to discuss that,” Melendez said. “I am fired from the Inkster Police Department, therefore I no longer fall under their general orders or their policies and procedures.”
“His attorney has a job to do,” he said. “He has a job to one, clear his client, and two, to obtain … money for his client.”
A union official also spoke out about Melendez’s firing. Teamsters Local 214 business representative Al Lewis told the Detroit News:
The supervisor on the shift did his investigation and evidently found nothing wrong because Officer Melendez was on the road for another six weeks after that. It wasn’t until Dent got an attorney and all of the sudden the video is on TV that they decided to fire this guy.
Melendez said he had worked in Inkster since 2010, including as a patrol officer and investigator with the narcotics unit. He said in February he had just finished field training officer school, and was assigned as a field training officer after the incident with Dent.
He called his situation a “political nightmare,” caused by “all the law enforcement negativity,” around the country. Melendez told WXYZ:
Politicians are not police officers. Civilians are not police officers. And it is a very stressful job where you have to make split second decisions that you don’t make in TV or a movie where you have a dialogue and you can retake that scene over and over and over again. This is a split second decision, it is one scene, and it can effect your entire life, or the life of others. And, I consider this to be a political nightmare, for not only myself, but for my family, my fiancee, my coworkers, my partner and for the local law enforcement community. … You’re tying police officers hands when you are Monday morning quarterbacking.
3. Melendez Fatally Shot an Unarmed Man in 1996 While The Man Was on the Ground
The first controversial incident of Melendez’s police career came in 1996 when he shot an unarmed man who was laying on the ground, according to the Voice of Detroit, an independent newspaper in the city.
According to a federal lawsuit, Melendez and his partner shot Lou Adkins 11 times after a traffic stop.
The Detroit Free Press reported that the city paid Adkins’ family $1 million in the wrongful death suit, but Melendez kept his job and was not criminally charged.
4. He Was Accused of Planting Evidence & Has Been Sued At Least 12 Times
Melendez retired from the Detroit department in 2007.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Melendez has been sued at least 12 times in federal court during his time as a cop in Detroit and Inkster.
In 2013 he was sued by Deshawn Acklin, who accused him of assault during a drug arrest. Acklin, who was handcuffed and on the ground, said in the lawsuit that Melendez, “began to choke him and beat him until he was unconscious.”
Melendez was charged in 2004 along with seven other Detroit officers with lying, falsifying reports and planting evidence, according to The Associated Press. He was acquitted of the charges. Prosecutors alleged he and another officer were the “masterminds” of a conspiracy to “run roughshod over the civil rights of the victims.”
5. The Charges Against Dent Were Dropped
Charges of resisting arrest were dropped in March when the video was released. But the drug charges were not dropped until April 20, after Melendez was arrested.
His attorney, Gregory Rohl, told the Free Press that the video shows officers planting the crack cocaine. Dent turned down a plea agreement during a March 25 court appearance. He did not test positive for drugs after the arrest, and has passed numerous drug tests while working for Ford, according to his attorney.
Dent said an innocent man doesn’t plead guilty.