A Maryland police officer seen on video kneeing a handcuffed man’s head into the sidewalk during an arrest was charged Tuesday with assault.
Montgomery County Police Officer Kevin Joseph Moris is due in court Aug. 2 to face one count of second-degree assault and one count of misconduct in office in the July 3 arrest of Arnaldo Andres Pesoa, 19, of Silver Spring.
Moris, 31, has been placed on paid administrative leave. It wasn’t immediately clear if he has an attorney.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, who announced the charges against Moris during a news briefing, called it a “sad day” but stressed that officers who act “improperly” will be held accountable for their actions.
“It is absolutely fundamental to public safety that we foster a partnership between the police and our community,” he said.
The police department suspended Moris’ police powers and assigned the seven-year department veteran to administrative duties last week. A department statement last Friday said it began investigating Moris’ use of force against Pesoa after videos of last Wednesday’s arrest began circulating on social media.
The video shows the plainclothes officer kneeing Pesoa’s head into the sidewalk outside a McDonald’s restaurant in a shopping center as Pesoa lies prone on his stomach. Pesoa screams as his head slams down and his mouth appears to be bleeding. The officer then lifts Pesoa’s shirt and covers his face with it.
Pesoa received medical treatment for his injuries, according to McCarthy. A booking photo shows a bruise above his right eye.
Acting Police Chief Marcus Jones, who joined McCarthy at Tuesday’s news briefing, said his department takes excessive force complaints “very seriously.”
“I have the utmost amount of confidence in our Montgomery County police officers every single day,” he said. “But there are sometimes good people (who) do bad things.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the union that represents Montgomery County police officers, said in a statement that it can’t comment on the charge against Moris “without knowing all the facts” and “without knowing anything more than what has been shown in the viral videos.”
“Officer Moris, like all U.S. citizens, is innocent until proven guilty and has a right to due process under law,” the union’s statement adds.
The assault charge against Moris is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The department’s internal investigation of Moris’ use of force will be suspended pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, Jones said.
Pesoa was freed on $5,000 bail after his arrest on charges including drug possession, resisting arrest and second-degree assault of Moris.
A police officer set up a meeting to buy drugs from Pesoa after seeing his social media post of a photo of psychedelic mushrooms on a scale with the caption, “Bout to have a good trip,” according to a police report.
When officers confronted him inside the restaurant, Pesoa didn’t comply with Moris’ commands, resisted arrest and spit on the officer’s shoe as he was led outside, the report says.