A police officer in California was convicted of misdemeanor battery for kicking a suspect in the groin during an arrest after a home invasion last year. During the trial, expert witnesses for both sides debated the appropriate use of police force during an arrest, with prosecutors succeeding in showing that Officer Christopher Melton had crossed a line while performing his duty.
Police Officer Assaults Suspect During Arrest
On April 13, 2013 Officer Melton pursued Daniel Reagan, who was spotted fleeing a residence. Melton, and fellow officer Ross Bays caught up with Reagan who, according to Officer Bays, laid down to surrender while saying “I’m done” to the two arresting officers. As Reagan lay on the ground, Officer Melton approached and kicked him hard in the groin, causing him to curl into a fetal position in pain. Officer Melton testified during his trial that he saw Reagan look over his shoulder, leading him to believe that the suspect was going to make a threatening move, and necessitating the use of force during the arrest.
Prosecutors argued that Melton purposefully and maliciously assaulted Reagan without cause, and included Officer Bay’s testimony as well as testimony from Officer Joshua Klinge who testified that Melton bragged about the incident later that night. In addition to witnesses to the assault and Melton’s reaction, prosecutors called police expert witnesses to explain proper arresting procedure and contrast reasonable use of force with Melton’s actions.
Police Force Expert Witnesses Testify in Officer Assault Trial
Prosecutors called Jeff Martin, a police use-of-force expert, to testify that it would be unjustified for a police officer to kick a suspect in the groin in a situation in which the suspect appears to be compliant. Martin is an instructor in California’s Peace Officer Standards and Training program, and he told the jurors that Melton did not appear justified in kicking Reagan during the arrest. Martin analyzed the facts, and told the jury that in this case, “We have compliance, there shouldn’t be use of force.”
Countering the testimony of Martin, Officer Melton’s defense team called Don Cameron, an instructor at the Sacramento Public Safety Training Center who is also a use-of-force expert witness. Cameron told jurors that he trains officers to use full force when hitting or kicking a suspect who poses a threat or might attempt to escape because doing so is the most efficient way to stop the threat immediately. Cameron also testified that when Reagan turned his head to look over his shoulder, it was reasonable for Melton to perceive a threat. Calling the head turn “target seeking,” Cameron told the jury that a suspect moves his head “to see how he’s going to attack you, to see how he’s going to shoot you.” He said that a head turn is a sign of escalation, and warned jurors that reaching for and firing a gun takes only 2.5 seconds. Cameron assessed the situation, which occurred in the dark of early morning, and testified that Melton was justified in taking his action.
Jury Convicts Officer of Excessive Force Assault
Despite testimony from Mr. Cameron, jurors determined that Officer Melton was not justified in kicking Reagan, and was thus guilty of battery. Jurors decided that the lawful necessity to use violent force did not exist in the Reagan case, and Melton had violated his duty by kicking the suspect in the groin during the arrest. Judge Linda McFadden sentenced Melton to five days in jail, 100 hours of community service, and three years of informal probation saying, “We rely on police officers to keep us safe, not harm citizens, even someone believed to have committed an egregious crime.”