Montgomery Co. police officer convicted of assaulting handcuffed man

The Montgomery County, Maryland, police officer who was seen on cellphone video using his knee to drive a handcuffed man’s face into the sidewalk during an arrest was convicted of second-degree assault Thursday.

Kevin Moris, 32, was acquitted on a separate charge of misconduct in office. He will be sentenced Feb. 7.

The jury returned its verdict after deliberating for more than 10 hours over the course of two days and after sending a note to the judge earlier Thursday indicating they were at a “stalemate.” The jurors were instructed by Judge Nelson Rupp to continue deliberating.

In the three-day trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court earlier this week, prosecutors played multiple videos of the arrest of 20-year-old Arnaldo Pesoa, and the officer took the stand in his own defense.

Cellphone video of the arrest, which took place at a McDonald’s in Aspen Hill, had been widely shared on social media before charges were brought against the eight-year veteran of the police force.

The video shows Pesoa, handcuffed and lying on his stomach, yelling and cursing at officers before Moris drops his knee into Pesoa, driving the man’s face into the ground. Moris is then seen lifting Pesoa’s head by his hair and pulling the man’s shirt over his bloodied face.

Pesoa was suspected of selling psychedelic mushrooms and was being arrested as part of an undercover sting, police said. Pesoa later pleaded guilty to a drug charge.

“My brother is a young man who made a mistake,” Pesoa’s older brother, Ricardo Pesoa, told reporters after the verdict. “He’s not perfect. Ultimately, it led to what I believe was police brutality.”

Ricardo Pesoa said it was tough to watch the cellphone video of the assault over and over in the courtroom, but said his family is happy with the guilty verdict on the assault charge.

In addition to cellphone video of the encounter, prosecutors called to the stand other police officers involved in the arrest. They testified that while Pesoa was not complying with officers’ commands, he was not acting violently toward them.

When Moris testified, he said Pesoa — who was hauled out of the McDonald’s before the kneeing incident — already had a bloodied mouth and had twice spat blood at him. He said he was concerned about being exposed to blood-borne diseases.

Demonstrating on a colleague in the courtroom, Moris also claimed he pushed his knee into Pesoa’s upper back — not the back of the man’s neck as prosecutors contended.

Pesoa did not testify.

Prosecutors urged jurors to watch the videos of the encounter that had been introduced into evidence. “The video is the video is the video,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney John D. Lalos told jurors during the prosecution’s closing argument.

Lalos said Moris’ actions were “violent and unreasonable,” and that Pesoa posed no immediate danger to the officer.

“I think it would be easy to try and make this into something bigger; this is not an indictment of police officers,” the prosecutor told jurors during his closing argument. “This is not a grand pronouncement. This is about a discrete moment in time. That’s why we’re here.”

Moris’ defense lawyer, Morgan Leigh, told jurors that Moris was simply protecting himself. “Spitting blood is a vile, dangerous assault,” she told jurors. Moris, she said, had a duty to control Pesoa “and every right to defend himself against a vile assault.”

After he was charged July 9, Moris was placed on administrative leave and his police powers were suspended.

A Montgomery County police spokesman declined to comment to WTOP after the verdict and directed inquiries to the state’s attorney’s office.

In a strongly worded statement issued after the verdict, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 said its members were disappointed with the verdict and called the state’s attorney’s office prosecution a “political case.” The group said the jury’s verdict means police officers “will be subject to politics, armchair analysis and Monday morning quarterbacking.”

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said, “It’s a sad day for us. But we have done what our oath has required us to do.”

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

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