Montgomery Co. officer assault trial: Jurors see cellphone videos of man being kneed

Jurors in the trial of a Montgomery County police officer charged with assaulting a handcuffed man at a Maryland McDonald’s over the summer were shown multiple cellphone videos of the encounter and heard from three other officers before prosecutors rested their case Tuesday.

Kevin Moris, 32, is charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office stemming from the July 3 arrest of 20-year-old Arnaldo Pesoa at the McDonald’s in Aspen Hill, Maryland. The plainclothes officer was one of five officers involved in an undercover drug sting there that day.

Moris was charged after cellphone video of the arrest taken by a bystander and later posted on social media went viral over the summer — drawing outrage from officials in the county.

That video shows Pesoa handcuffed and lying on his stomach on the sidewalk outside of the McDonald’s. Pesoa is seen yelling and cursing at officers before Moris drops to one knee, appearing to hit Pesoa in the back of his neck and causing his face to slam into the pavement as Pesoa screams.

When Pesoa lifts his head in the video, his mouth appears to be bloodied, and the officer lifted Pesoa’s shirt and covered his face with it. (The language in the video and the tweet could be offensive to some; the video is available here.)

Prosecutors on Tuesday played a total of three of the videos of the incident for the jury, and also called three other police officers to the stand, including Cpl. Scott Smith, who was running the undercover operation.

Smith testified he posed as a person interested in buying drugs when he and Pesoa corresponded via the social media platform Snapchat, and agreed to meet up at the McDonald’s that day. He said Pesoa was offering to sell psychedelic mushrooms.

Once the plainclothes officers arrived at the restaurant, Smith said Pesoa, who was sitting at a booth, refused to comply as officers tried to arrest him. Smith said officers eventually pulled Pesoa out of the booth and pinned him to the ground before he was taken outside the restaurant.

Some of the videos played for the jury show the initial stages of the arrest inside the McDonald’s.

Though Pesoa was not complying with officers’ orders, Smith said the man was not violent during the arrest and never attempted to throw any punches or kick at the officers during the arrest.

As for Moris, Smith characterized his fellow officer’s demeanor as “extremely patient” inside the McDonald’s.

Pesoa suffered an abrasion above his right eye and was taken to a hospital after the arrest.

In addition to Smith, prosecutors called to the stand two other police officers who were involved in the arrest. They then rested their case.

Moris’ lawyer, Morgan Leigh, called as witnesses two more police officers to the stand. Officer Jeffrey Stromberg, who also responded to the McDonald’s, testified Pesoa was “spitting all over” before the kneeing incident.

Officer Gregory Laser testified he saw blood around Pesoa’s mouth before the man was taken outside of the McDonald’s. Laser also testified he saw Moris’ knee positioned at Pesoa’s upper shoulder and back area, not the back of Pesoa’s neck.

The trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court is scheduled to last five days.

If convicted, Moris could face up to 10 years behind bars. Moris was placed on administrative duties and his police powers were suspended after he was charged.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report from Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville, Maryland.

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