“The officer with the gun jumped on me, grabbed me by the throat, and started choking me, then beating me in the head.” — Floyd Dent
Melendez’ partner, auxiliary cop Zielenewski, admits repeated use of racial epithets in texts
Judge Evans to partner: “Oh so you’re a railroader by day and a crimefighter by night?”
Video of cops mocking Dent in Inkster police station played over defense objection
DPOA Pres. Mark Diaz hugs, supports Melendez in court
#FloydDent, #RobocopMelendez, #WilliamMelendez, #AiyanaJones, #Beatbackthebullies, #Blacklivesmatter, #BlacklivesmatterDetroit, #StopPoliceBrutality, #StopPoliceMurders, #Saveourchildren, #Standupnow, #StoowaronBlackAmerica, #Jailkillercops, #PoliceState, #PrisonNation, #Policeviolence
November 6, 2015
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – Autoworker Floyd Dent, now a national symbol of the battle against police brutality, took the stand Nov. 5 to confront former Detroit, Highland Park, and Inkster cop William Melendez, nicknamed “Robocop.” Melendez is being tried in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans for nearly beating Dent to death during a traffic stop in Inkster Jan. 28.
He is charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, attempted strangulation, and misconduct in office and faces 10-25 years in prison. The City of Detroit previously paid out at least $1.2 million to settle numerous brutality lawsuits against Melendez, including two killings in 1996 and 2003. The City of Inkster paid $1.3 million to settle the Dent case out of court.
Dent remained calm and dignified throughout his testimony, pointing to Melendez to identify him.
“That’s the officer right there in the purple tie,” Dent said.
Just prior to Dent’s testimony, Melendez’ partner at the time, “auxiliary” Inkster cop John Zielenewski, admitted sending and receiving racist texts using the “N” word and other epithets, that the prosecution had subpoenaed. He said he had used the word “only” 20-30 times out of thousands of texts, and did not mean it “derogatorily.”
One text in March said, “At least give me the satisfaction of knowing you’re out there beating up N’s right now,” to which Zielenewski replied, “lol, just got done with one.”
Zielenewski told Judge Evans that a volunteer auxiliary cop for the Inkster force, he buys his own uniforms, guns and other equipment. He said he works full-time “for the railroad.”
Evans quipped, “Oh, so you’re a railroader by day and a crimefighter by night?”
Dent, now 58, has worked for Ford Motor Company for 38 years. He sustained permanent closed head injuries, a broken nose, broken eye orbit, broken ribs, and burns from taser strikes applied directly to his stomach and thighs.
In key testimony, he recounted the beating.
“When I pulled over to the right, I opened the driver’s door and held both arms out, to let the officers know I didn’t have any weapons,” Dent testified. He said he had his light tan Cadillac washed earlier and didn’t want to streak the windows by letting them down.
“One officer approached me on the right side and another officer approached me with a gun. The guy with the gun [Melendez] was at the side of my door and said, ‘Get out of the car or I’ll blow your motherfucking head off.’ The officer with the skullcap then threw me to the ground, grabbing my arm.”
Dent said, “The officer with the gun jumped on me, grabbed me by the throat, and started choking me, then beating me in the head. I saw a shiny object in his hand when he was beating the right side of my head. That’s when I had to cover up my face. . . .He tried to kill me. He choked me so hard I couldn’t breathe. He had me in a strangling position. He had his arm under my throat trying to cut off my windpipe. I was trying to catch my breath and I was moving my head to get his arm from around me . . . .The officer choked me for so long, I passed out for a minute.”
The dashcam video (below) shows that Melendez hit Dent directly in the head 16 times.
Dent testified that other officers who arrived on the scene kicked him in the ribs and tased him at least three to four times, after someone said “tase that motherfucker.” They included other Inkster police, Michigan State troopers and a Dearborn Heights officer, all of them white.
Police dashcam videos of the beating went viral, shocking the nation in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown, Errol Garner, and numerous other Black men across the U.S. the previous year. Prior to Dent’s testimony, a jury of nine Blacks and seven whites watched the videos in real time and slow motion, frame by frame.
The officer in charge of the case, First Lt. Twana Powell, head of the Michigan State Police internal affairs unit, narrated the videos. She firmly withstood defense attempts to say the videos showed Dent resisting arrest, asserting instead that he appeared to be protecting himself.
She also testified that Inkster Police Department “use of force” regulations absolutely forbid the use of chokeholds.
Dent explained that it takes him longer now to process and respond to questions due to permanent head injuries from the beating. However, his testimony in response to questions from Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Donaldson and defense attorney James C. Thomas was understandable and forthright.
Dent said he was coming back from dropping off liquor to friends of his who lived in an apartment complex near Michigan Avenue, not the Budget Inn Zielenewski testified he first saw him at. Dent said he has never been to the Budget Inn. He said bought the liquor where he always does, at a store near Michigan and I-275.
Zielenewski testified earlier without citing statistics that the entire stretch of Michigan Avenue in Inkster, a predominantly Black city, is a “high crime” area, and that cops are always on “high alert” when patrolling the area.
Dent said he drove on Michigan westbound to a parallel side street, Oak Court, before he noticed the cops put their flashers on. He drove for about 20 seconds more to a well-lit area outside the old Inkster police station and stopped.
Then the beating, kickings and tasings took place, before cops finally dragged Dent off the ground and stood him up in front of Melendez’ car to handcuff him. That resulted in another photo that went viral, showing Dent bleeding profusely from his head onto his white shirt as two officers restrained him.
Dent said he never resisted, struck or bit Melendez or Zielenewski. Zielenewski had testified that while Dent was lying under the two cops, he moved them several feet over trying to “scoot away” and escape. Zielenewski said he was 6 ft. 2 in. tall and weighed 245 lbs. at the time, and that Melendez was even larger. He said they both regularly worked out with weights. Dent testified that he is 5’10” and weighs 225 lbs.
A video showing an extensive search of Dent’s car after that, with cops and a police dog swarming all over it, was also played. One section, which was highligted by Kevin Dietz on Channel Four, showed Melendez pulling a plastic baggie of what the defense claimed to be drugs out of his pocket after his third search of the car. (See above.)
“When he [Melendez] stood me up in front on the police car that’s when I told him, ‘Why did you beat me like that?’” Dent testified. “They took me straight to the precinct, not the hospital, even though I begged to go. I was bleeding real bad, my head had swelled up so big. When I got to the precinct, they took me to a jail cell and told me to strip down to my shorts.”
AP Donaldson played a police station video of that incident. It showed cops forcing Dent to kneel on a bench, facing the wall, while his pants were searched and pulled off. One cop gave Dent paper towels to wipe the blood from his face, and removed his bloody outer shirt, before the photo was taken. The cop discarded the towels.
Over Thomas’ unsustained objection, Donaldson also showed a video (above) of Melendez and other cops inside the lobby of the police station, with Dent present before they took him to his cell. They were wiping blood off their clothes with disinfectants and laughing uproariously, knocking their fists with each other. One cop is shown lying on a bench in the room imitating Dent’s position as he lay on the ground, with his left arm outstretched.
Zielenewski claimed that cop’s action was related to Melendez’s upcoming honeymoon. Melendez’ current wife Kerry Melendez, who he married Sept. 22, 2015, was present in the court, along with a row of what appeared to be other cops.
Court records show that a previous wife, Michelle Melendez, divorced him in 2004 after his trial in federal court with seven other Detroit cops for an L.A. “Ramparts” style scandal involving allegations of frame-ups, beatings, stranglings, and death threats.
Detroit Police Officers Association (DPOA) President Mark Diaz hugged and encouraged Melendez as he sat at the defense bench during a break, but denied that the DPOA had funded his defense.
VOD asked Thomas who was paying him, to which Thomas replied, “What kind of a question is that?” Earlier media reports said Melendez was a member of Teamsters Local 214.
Thomas told Dent, who admitted to driving on a suspended license, that he had been “arrested or taken in by police on 13 separate occasions for driving while on a suspended license, and stopped 28 times.” Dent said he had been arrested four to five times.
There are no records for Dent of any arrests, charges, or convictions on the Michigan State Police ICHAT website. That site normally leaves arrests online even if they don’t lead to convictions. (See Dent ICHAT.)
Thomas asked Dent how many times he had been on TV about the incident, to which Dent replied, “about five.” Thomas noted that Dent was accompanied by his attorney Gregory Rohl, and reporter Kevin Dietz of Channel Four when he entered the courtroom.
Dietz did a stunning series of stories on the Dent beating, which led to four mass protests in Inkster and Detroit. Dietz told VOD he just happened to be in the hall when Dent and Rohl arrived, and entered the courtroom just after they did, not with them.
After the hearing, Rohl told VOD, “Justice will be done. I was very pleased with Floyd’s poise on the witness stand. Truth will prevail. I am offended beyond belief at the racism that permeates the Inkster police force. How many times do you have to say you used the “N” word, claiming it is not derogatory, before you become a racist?”
Testimony in the case resumes Monday, Nov. 9 at 9:30 a.m. in Judge Evans courtroom, #802 at the Frank Murphy Hall. The prosecution is expected to call several more witnesses, while the defense has said it has “25-35” witnesses to call.