May 28, 2015 / 6:48 PM / 2 years ago

Suburban Detroit ex-officer to stand trial in beating of motorist

INKSTER, Mich. (Reuters) - A white former police officer from suburban Detroit must stand trial for assault and other charges in the videotaped beating of a black motorist in January, a judge ruled on Thursday.

William Melendez was fired from the police force in the Detroit suburb of Inkster after he was filmed punching Floyd Dent, in one of a number of cases that has fueled national debate on race and policing.

Dent testified at a preliminary hearing in criminal court on Thursday, a day after he reached a $1.4 million settlement in his civil lawsuit against the city of Inkster.

Dent said he had memory loss and other damage from the beating.

"As I got out the car I had my arms out, the officer grabbed my arms and threw me to the ground," Dent testified before Judge Sabrina Johnson.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Donaldson added an additional charge of strangulation against Melendez.

"He choked me so hard I couldn't breathe," said Dent, who works for Ford.

If convicted, Melendez faces up to 10 years in prison.

During questioning by Donaldson, Dent said he was aware that he did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the traffic stop.

"That doesn't give the right to victimize another black man," said Dent's attorney, Gregory Rohl, during a recess.

Jim Thomas, one of three defense attorneys for Melendez, challenged Dent's recollection of the night's events during his cross examination, including whether he had leaned to the right inside his vehicle when he was stopped, a move he argued that could have been interpreted as hiding something.

Rohl confirmed that the city of Inkster, which has a majority black population, but a majority white police force, reached a settlement agreement in the civil case in the amount of $1.375 million this week.

"I think there was an intent to get Inkster to heal," Rohl said of the city's decision to settle the civil police brutality case out of court.

Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Sandra Maler

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