(Video above, from Lady Justice, shows full verdict and surrounding events)
Majority Black jury finds Robocop guilty of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, misconduct in office; he faces up to 15 years
Judge Vonda R. Evans remands Melendez to Wayne County Jail pending sentencing reset to Dec. 4, as a threat to the community; chastises his wife
“They finally got that monster off the streets.”
Racism alive and thriving during court arguments
#FloydDent, #Robocop, #WilliamMelendez, #AiyanaJones, #Beatbackthebullies, #Blacklivesmatter, #BlacklivesmatterDetroit, #StopPoliceBrutality, #StopPoliceMurders, #Saveourchildren, #Standupnow, #StoowaronBlackAmerica, #Jailkillercops, #PoliceState, #PrisonNation, #Policeviolence
By Diane Bukowski
November 20, 2015
DETROIT— William “Robocop” Melendez is finally off the street, after at least 20 years of wreaking murder and havoc throughout Detroit, the City of Inkster, and elsewhere in Michigan.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda R. Evans remanded him to the Wayne County Jail Nov. 19, pending sentencing Dec. 4 (updated) on two felony counts in the brutal beating of Black Detroit autoworker Floyd Dent on Jan. 28, 2015, in the city of Inkster.
A jury comprised of seven Blacks and five whites found Melendez guilty of “Assault with Intent to Do Great Bodily Harm Less Than Murder,” which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, and “Misconduct in Office,” which carries a five year maximum. They found him not guilty of a felony count of “Strangulation.” The jury foreperson was a Black woman.
That morning, the jury had again watched the police dashcam video of the beating, during which Melendez is seen hitting Dent 16 times in the head with his fist, and other white cops are seen jumping on him, tasering and kicking him. It was a video which went viral after Channel Four reporter Kevin Dietz first aired it and followed up relentlessly with a series of other revelations about the case.
“I would like to have seen Melendez found guilty on all three counts, since I saw my client being choked on the video,” Dent’s attorney Gregory Rohl told VOD. “But Melendez is still looking at 10 years. I admire the courage of Judge Evans; she did the right thing. During Melendez’ sentencing, Floyd Dent will give a very powerful victim impact statement. I don’t know where they’ll send Melendez, but people have called my office saying they’re waiting for him.”
A statement from Rohl’s office added, “Floyd Dent would like to thank all of his supporters and public leaders who stood by him and believed in him during his ordeal with the Inkster Police Department, specifically Reverend [Charles] Williams and Ron Scott. He would also like to extend his gratitude to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and Lieutenant Twana Powell for their dedicated service in establishing the truth in this case before the jury.
“While Mr. Dent is satisfied with the jury verdict, he is hopeful that his plight will serve to educate the public and reinforce the belief that all lives matter without regard to the color of their skin. He further hopes that the healing that the community so desperately needs can now begin.
“Finally, Floyd would like to thank Judge Vonda Evans for both her professionalism and courage demonstrated in handling this volatile case, especially in remanding ‘Robocop’ Melendez to a place where he can no longer hurt innocent members of the community.”
Melendez has a long, repellent history from his time on both the Detroit and Inkster police forces. He has been sued 12 times in federal court, for the killings of Detroiters Lou Adkins in 1996 and Ernest Crutchfield II in 2003, and numerous other acts of brutality. Prior to the Adkins’ killing, he had been sued four times, according to the Detroit Free Press article shown below. During his trial on the Dent beating, he refused to take the stand to testify, likely in light of this history.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice charged and tried him and other Detroit cops from the Third and Fourth Precincts for a years-long LA Ramparts-style campaign of terrorism. Despite the unprecedented testimony of 17 Black Detroit officers against Robocop’s crew, they were acquitted. The jury evidently responded to aspersions by Melendez’ defense attorney David Lee against those who were victimized.
“Melendez finally got exactly what he deserved,” Attorney David Robinson said. He represented Crutchfield’s family after Melendez, Jeffrey Weiss, and other Detroit cops invaded the man’s home without a warrant and shot him to death in his kitchen in 2003.
“There’s no excuse for what he did to Floyd Dent,” Robinson added. “Fortunately, he was not smart enough to turn his police car camera in a different direction. Had it not been caught on camera, it would have been his word against Dent’s, and he would have gotten away with it again.”
A young Black Inkster resident said Melendez had been on the force there for many years.
“They finally got that monster off the streets,” he told VOD. “Justice has been served today. Now he’s caged up like an animal like he has done to so many other people. He falsely arrested me, and planted drugs on my friends and family members. Two of them are still in prison. The Inkster police force as a whole is corrupt and needs to be dismantled. This verdict has brought me to tears, and I am rejoicing that my God has seen fit for this day to come.”
Cornell Squires is a southwest Detroit resident and leader of We the People for the People. His son was falsely charged by Melendez in 1999 and subsequently spent time in prison.
“Praise the Lord,” Squires said. “We’ve finally got a victory. It’s karma, baby. Melendez sent my son to jail and now he’s in jail. Asst. Prosecutor Tom Trczinski suborned perjury in the case, and he died at the age of 56 about two years ago. Melendez thought he was going to get away with it, but he finally got caught. The streets of Michigan will be safer now. Robocop is down for the count; his terrorist attacks have come to an end. He needs to get the maximum sentence. He’s ruined so many people’s lives. He’s a demon. He’s going to jail, and then he’s going to hell.”
Squires said, however, as did Dent, that all the cops involved in the beating and its aftermath should have been criminally charged. He said their charges should have included planting drugs (Melendez), and filing false police reports as well. Melendez was convicted of filing a false report prior to his son’s trial, but then Judge Kym Worthy would not take that into evidence.
Inkster police Officer Chuck Randazzo was internally suspended for 15 days for use of excessive force, and Sgt. Shawn Kritzer was suspended for 30 days for improperly administering medical attention to Floyd Dent. Both testified at the trial on Melendez’ behalf. Randazzo wore his Inkster police uniform on the day of the verdict, and according to Channel 7 news, assaulted one of their cameraman in the hallway. (See video below.)
Squires also noted that despite his violent history, Melendez was politely escorted off to jail with no handcuffs.
“They handcuffed Kwame Kilpatrick after he was convicted for non-violent crimes, far less than what Melendez did to so many people,” Squires said.
Throughout Melendez’ trial, the courtroom was filled with white cops, along with his wife of two months, Kerry Melendez, and other family members. His wife faced a stinging rebuke from Judge Evans after storming out of the courtroom when the verdict was read. Evans forced her to return, telling her she had disrespected her courtroom and the jury.
While outside in the hallway, Randazzo assaulted a Channel 7 cameraman who approached Kerry Melendez, and she herself made threatening moves toward their crew, according to Channel 7. She also refused to stand for the jury as they left after the verdict.(See video below.)
Melendez’ defense attorney James C. Thomas, who also represented former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in the case which ended with his sentence to 28 years in prison, told the media that he planned to appeal Melendez’ conviction based on alleged “judicial error” by Judge Evans during jury selection proceedings.
He said the voir dire of the jury was conducted all at the same time, in one room, but did not cite any court rule indicating that could not be done.
“The attorneys both for the prosecution and defense would be able to weed out whatever biases had occurred by getting to know the jurors without being around other people and without other jurors [present],” Thomas said.
Michigan Court Rule 6.412 says regarding voir dire of the jury, that “The scope of voir dire examination of prospective jurors is within the discretion of the court.” It adds, “The court may conduct the examination of prospective jurors or permit the lawyers to do so. If the court conducts the examination, it may permit the lawyers to supplement the examination by direct questioning or by submitting questions for the court to ask. On its own initiative or on the motion of a party, the court may provide for a prospective juror or jurors to be questioned out of the presence of the other jurors.” (See Michigan Court Rules.)
Thomas did not say that he ever introduced a motion for sequestered voir dire of any juror or jurors.
A majority-Black jury is a rare occurrence in the Third Judicial Circuit Court these days. The state legislature abolished the Detroit-only Recorders Court in 1999 after a Black jury convicted white Detroit cops Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers of second-degree murder for the magnum flashlight beating death of steel plant worker Malice Green in 1992. Then Assistant Prosecutor Kym Worthy gained acclaim from Detroiters for the verdict, which she parlayed into her run for Wayne County Prosecutor.
Budzyn and Nevers, known as “Starsky and Hutch” on the streets of near-west Detroit, later won new trials and reduced verdicts and sentences. Nevers later died of cancer.
Wayne County administrator Mike Duggan, now “Mayor” of Detroit, fired former Assistant Wayne County Medical Examiner Khalil Jiraki for determining Green died from the beating rather than from drugs in his system. Jiraki’s original finding was later confirmed. He won $2.1 million in a lawsuit against his discharge.
Worthy said after the Melendez verdict, “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.”
However, Worthy recently refused to charge officers in the killing of 19-year-old father Terrance Kellom in his father’s home, despite mass protests in Detroit as Baltimore went up in flames to protest the police killing of Freddie Gray.
Worthy has so far failed to charge ANY DETROIT COPS with murder.
A Grand Jury consisting of Third Judicial Criminal Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny charged Detroit cop Joseph Weekley with involuntary manslaughter in the May 16, 2010 killing of 7-year Aiyana Jones, but Weekley walked after three mistrials.
During those trials, all covered by VOD, it was clear that Asst. Prosecutor Robert Moran colluded with defense attorney Steve Fishman and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway to orchestrate the results. A source familiar with the prosecutor’s staff told VOD in two letters that many staff members of the office were enraged.
The racial element in Dent case has been glaring. The dashcam video of the beating by numerous white cops of Dent, a Black man, went viral after a year during which Blacks and their supporters in Ferguson and Baltimore rose up in fiery rebellion against the killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray by white police officers. Across the country, protests against hundreds of other such killings dominated national news.
In Detroit and Inkster, thousands marched, demanding charges against Melendez and all involved.
Closing arguments on Nov. 18 in Melendez’ trial were rife with either specific or subtle racial references.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Robert Donaldson argued that the defense’s whole strategy was to draw attention away from the video, which even former Inkster police chief Vicki Yost admitted was “difficult to watch.” She testified, however, that the video showed Dent had resisted arrest, but that excessive force was used.
“Mr. Dent, who is a 35-year Ford Motor Company employee, with no record except for difficulties keeping his driver’s license, made the mistake of driving his Cadillac in the city of Inkster,” Donaldson said.
He referred to his direct exam of Melendez’ partner, auxiliary Inkster cop John Zieleniewski, who he called a “wannabe” cop. Zieleniewski had testified that he and Melendez saw Dent in the parking lot of the Inkster Budget Inn going into a room and coming out, implying that he went there to buy drugs. He said Dent turned right on Michigan, right on Fairbairn, and left on Oakland, before eventually stopping at the old Inkster police station on South River Park Drive, where the beating occurred.
Dent testified that he was never at the Budget Inn. He said he drove his car from a liquor store near I-275 and Michigan, where he picked up drinks for friends living on Oakland, then drove down Michigan to Fairbairn, which he took to the Pineridge Apartments on Oakland to deliver the drinks.
“Why did I expose Zieleniewski?” Donaldson asked, referring to his introduction of racist texts the prosecution subpoenaed from Zielenewski’s phone. “He has a bias. He doesn’t like Black people, he jokes about beating them up, he thinks it’s funny. Zielenewski is not worthy of belief. In essence, he wants to convince you that Mr. Dent got what he deserved. . . .Look at the video. You don’t see Dent’s car in the Budget Inn parking lot, or turning down Michigan Avenue from there.”
Jurors took a field trip to view the scenes involved Nov. 17, but unfortunately covered only the police version of Dent’s route, beginning at the liquor store near the Budget Inn. Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor John Donaldson told VOD that route was used because Dent’s version was “in question,” despite the fact that the prosecution’s whole case rested on questioning the police version of events.
The senior Donaldson said Zieleniewski tried to portray Dent as a “deranged crackhead,” an image some suburbanites have of Black Detroiters.
“But this is not about cocaine,” Donaldson said. “There is no evidence, none, that Floyd Dent was high on cocaine; both a Medical Examiner and a state toxicologist said so. Melendez says he got cocaine from Dent’s car, the third time he goes in. We don’t see it coming out of the car on the video, only when Melendez pulls it out of his pocket.”
In his closing arguments, Melendez’ defense attorney Thomas appeared to use a “Rodney King” defense. He alleged that Dent was so strong that he was able to struggle against two large, well-built cops lying on top of him, even moving them several feet. He also had officers testify that Dent had such superhuman strength that he did not react to three taser direct stuns. See video of Rodney King beating below.
History has been rife with such portrayals of Blacks as subhuman animals. Hollow-point bullets, originally known as “dum-dums,” were first developed by the imperialist British and Belgians for use in India and Africa in the 1890’s. The invaders claimed people of color needed superhuman force to put them down. (See Detroit Police on SAFARI.)
Thomas disavowed racist texts by Melendez’ partner, auxiliary cop John Zielenewski, admitted into evidence by the prosecution, but the undertone of his later statements reflected repeated if subtle racial animus.
“This is a high crime area,” Thomas said of the area around the Budget Inn on Michigan Avenue in Inkster, which Thomas contended Dent had visited to buy and ingest cocaine. “[Former Inkster] police chief Vicki Yost and Randazzo did not have reason to exaggerate. You heard from police officers on the street.”
Inkster’s police force is 80 percent white, while its population is 75 percent Black.
Michigan State Police First Lieutenant Twana Powell, the officer in charge of the case for the prosecution, testified earlier that Inkster police records showed only one drug-related police call to the Motel during the year prior to the Dent beating. Her demeanor throughout her presentation of the case was authoritative and dignified.
But Thomas repeatedly denigrated Powell, who is Black, by name during his closing, making aspersions against her investigative capacity, accuracy and thoroughness.
“Ms. Powell was promoted to First Lieutenant just before this case, for unknown reasons,” Thomas said among other remarks.
Powell is the highest-ranking Internal Affairs MSP officer in the state, after 23 years with both the Detroit Police and MSP. She was also the chief investigative officer in the case against Joseph Weekley for killing Aiyana Jones. The Jones family gave her kudos for her sensitivity to them.
Thomas contended that Dent possessed and tested positive for cocaine, although those charges had already been dropped. Testimony he elicited from Professor Aaron Westrick, who has a PhD in criminal justice and teaches at Lake Superior State University, was countered by a top MSP forensics lab supervisor and Wayne County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt, a medical doctor.
Thomas also insisted on calling Westrick a “doctor” as if he was a medical doctor, a far cry from a PhD. He used him and other witnesses as well to describe what they saw in the video, although none of them were forensic video analysts.
But the majority-Black jury, evidently aware of the racist sub-texts in the defense presentation, convicted Melendez based on what they saw in the video. Prosecutor Donaldson quoted Richard Pryor regarding a case of being found in bed with another woman: “Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?”
His final presentation to the jury was a video clip showing a bloodied Dent held up against Melendez’ police car, crying out, “What did I do? Why are you doing this to me?”
Earlier stories from the Michigan Citizen and Free Press