Judge Tackles Policing Issues at Sentencing Hearing

February 3rd 2016

Kyle Jaeger

At the sentencing hearing of former Inkster, Michigan, police officer William Melendez — who was convicted after assaulting a 58-year-old Black man, Floyd Dent, during a traffic stop last year — Judge Vonda Evans took the opportunity to speak out against brutality and racial prejudice in policing.


After going over the troubling details of the case, Judge Evans addressed the systemic issues underlying numerous police brutality incidents that have taken place in police departments throughout the United States. She drew from her experience as a prosecutor to make the point that, in many cases, police culture informs the kind of illegal behavior that was brought to light in Dent's case.


"How does this happen? I'm going to tell you how it happens," Evans said. "There's a culture among police officers, and that culture is a norm of understanding all police officers within a department adhere to — particular norms, values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. They come in three forms."

Here are the three forms of police culture. 

1. The Blue Wall of Silence

"Protecting police officers at all costs because supervisors and citizens are distrustful, evil, and untrustworthy."

2. Us vs. Them

"The good police versus the others. Citizens and offenders — they are all grouped together. They're one in the same."

3. Cover Up

"A mentality which discourages officers from trusting supervisors and citizens because police officers believe that the public doesn't understand them. They don't understand true police work. And they are forced to face criticism from others about their job, from the media, from their friends and family."

"These pressures and expectations force officers, who have a pure desire to purely serve the community as an occupation, to conform to this group mentality or face being ostracized and labeled as an outcast among the group," Evans said. "These methods of indoctrination are passed along to new police recruits in the academy by stressing the importance of obedience to authority through a structure of shame and honor. It teaches them to conform and obey to the prevailing standards of the police culture."

The Floyd Dent case.

Dent was pulled over for driving with a suspended license and faced charges of cocaine possession and resisting a police officers, but those those charges were later dropped. Dash cam video revealed that Melendez forcibly removed Dent from the vehicle and struck him 16 times in the head. Evans described how Dent was then "struck, kicked, and Tased while on the ground by what appeared to be a group of angry, anxious police officers that celebrated after the defendant was beaten and cuffed."

Melendez was sentenced between 13 months and 10 years in prison for the assault on Tuesday. At the sentencing hearing, he apologized to Dent and his family and ended his statement by reading a poem that is well-known in the law enforcement community, "The Final Inspection." The city of Inkster reached a reached a $1.4 million settlement with Dent's family last year.