The Montgomery County, Maryland, police officer charged with assault after he was seen on cellphone video using his knee to drive a handcuffed man’s face into a sidewalk took the stand in his own defense Wednesday.
Kevin Moris, 32, testified that he perceived a threat from Arnaldo Pesoa, 20, because the man had a bloodied mouth and had twice spit at officers during his July 3 arrest at an Aspen Hill McDonald’s.
“He spit blood at me,” Moris said, adding that he was concerned about being exposed to blood-borne diseases. He was one of several officers involved in Pesoa’s arrest on suspicion of selling drugs.
Moris is charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years behind bars.
The case is now in the hands of a jury.
A Montgomery County Circuit Court jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday afternoon, but jurors were sent home for the day at 5:30 p.m. without reaching a verdict. They are set to resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Moris, who has served on the Montgomery County police force for 8 ½ years, told the jury he had had a previous experience with blood-borne contaminants and had to undergo six months of testing. He said that was on his mind during Pesoa’s arrest.
“I was wearing shorts,” Moris said. “Blood exposure is going through my head … I’ve known Pesoa for five minutes. I don’t know if he has any blood-borne illnesses.”
Cellphone video of the arrest, which was widely shared on social media at the time, shows Pesoa, handcuffed and lying on a sidewalk outside the McDonald’s. The videos then shows Moris, who is in plainclothes, dropping to one knee, hitting Pesoa and driving his face into the concrete as the man screams.
Later, Moris is seen pulling Pesoa’s shirt over the man’s bloodied face. (The video, which contains offensive language, can be seen here.)
Prosecutors introduced multiple cellphone videos of the arrest into evidence. They said the videos show Moris pressing his knee into the back of Pesoa’s head and neck area, but Moris disputed that when he took the stand.
Demonstrating his maneuver on a colleague in the courtroom, Moris claimed he placed his knee on Pesoa’s upper back.
Before the events shown by the cellphone video, officers have said that Pesoa refused to comply with officers as they attempted to arrest him inside the McDonald’s.
Other officers who testified during Moris’ trial said they hauled Pesoa out of a booth inside the restaurant, handcuffed him and took him outside.
Moris testified that he actually restrained other officers inside McDonald’s. “I wanted to use the least amount of force possible to remove him from the booth,” he said.
Pesoa’s arrest was part of an undercover drug sting. Montgomery County police said Pesoa corresponded with an undercover officer on the social media platform Snapchat about selling psychedelic mushrooms.
Pesoa pleaded guilty last month to a drug charge; he was initially charged with resisting arrest, but that charge was dropped.
WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report from Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville, Maryland.