Rockville, MD – A Montgomery County police officer was convicted of assault on Thursday for using force on a suspect who split blood at police officers.
The incident occurred on July 3 at a McDonald’s in Aspen Hill when officers from the Montgomery County Police Department’s (MCPD) 4th District Special Assignment Team were conducting a drug sting operation on a psychedelic mushroom dealer at a McDonald’s, WTTG reported.
Undercover officers concluded the drug deal with 19-year-old Arnaldo Pesoa but when they went to take him into custody, he resisted arrest and fought with them.
Multiple videos of the incident were filmed by bystanders from inside and outside the restaurant.
A cell phone video filmed inside the restaurant showed the officers trying to take Pesoa into custody as he fought them.
The video showed that it took four officers to get handcuffs on the suspect, who screamed and fought the entire time.
Once Pesoa was handcuffed, the officers stood him up and walked him outside, the video showed.
The suspect continued fighting with officers after they took him outside, so the officers put Pesoa down on the sidewalk to search him for weapons and drugs.
The video showed that Pesoa continued to fight officers and resisted arrest from the ground.
When he started spitting blood at them, 32-year-old Montgomery County Police Officer Kevin Moris dropped his knee on the suspect to stop the attack, the video showed.
However, Pesoa's head was off of the ground at the time which resulted in his head slamming into the pavement.
“I just spit my spit my f--king blood on your foot,” Pesoa screamed at the officer in the video.
So Officer Moris pulled Pesoa’s shirt up over his head to act as a spit shield, the video showed.
Pesoa was arrested and taken to the Central Processing Unit for booking, according to WTTG.
He was charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance, one count of attempted distribution of a controlled substance, one count of resisting arrest, and one count of second-degree assault.
Pesoa was released on a $5,000 bond, WTTG reported.
Cell phone videos of the incident filmed by bystanders quickly went viral and sparked outrage in the community.
Instead of supporting his officer and explaining why a police officer would use force against a suspect trying to infect officers with potentially infectious blood-borne pathogens, then-acting Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones suspended Officer Moris and he has been on paid administrative leave since that time.
A Montgomery County jury convicted Officer Moris of misdemeanor second-degree assault on Thursday after a day of deliberations, WJZ reported.
He was acquitted of the misconduct in office charge.
Morris’ attorney, Morgan Leigh, had argued that his client was justified in his use of force because the suspect had spit blood at him twice and threatened to do it again, WJZ reported.
“Spitting blood is a vile, dangerous assault that Kevin was exposed to twice before dropping his body weight down on Arnaldo Pesoa to stop the threat,” Leigh said.
“A use of force is not pretty,” she said. “A use of force is violent. It is violence to prevent and stop further violence. And officers have a duty to use force when necessary to protect themselves or others.”
Assistant State’s Attorney John Lalos, who never even interviewed the officer before charging him, called the use of force a violent and unreasonable response driven by Officer Moris’ frustration that the suspect wouldn’t follow police commands, WJZ reported.
“It was violent. It was unreasonable,” Assistant State’s Attorney John Lalos told jurors during the trial. “And, ultimately, it was punitive. This was a tax, ladies and gentlemen. This was a tax for Arnaldo Pesoa’s misbehavior, noncompliance, language, disrespect — perceived or real.”
The Montgomery County police union was furious about the jury’s verdict and warned in a press release that making police work political could result in tragedy.
“Lodge 35 is very disappointed in today’s verdict,” Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 35 wrote in a press release on Thursday evening. “The jury heard two days of testimony and deliberated for many hours to second-guess Officer Moris. Officer Moris, who was previously exposed to blood-borne pathogens, made a split-second decision to defend himself and react to a deliberate spitting assault against him.”
“Officer Moris went to work that day to do his job, protect his community. The subject who spit on him had the intent that same day to put illegal drugs on the streets of Montgomery County. The state’s attorney charged Officer Moris prior to conducting an investigation and never asked to speak with Officer Moris. This was a political case,” the FOP continued.
“Unfortunately, all good police officers must now evaluate every action they may take in the context of the possible political consequences to them and their families,” the press release warned. “Officers now know that they will be subject to politics, armchair analysis and Monday-morning quarterbacking that may result in criminal charges with no support from their police chief or elected officials.”
“We pray this will not result in tragedy,” the FOP added.
Officer Moris will be scheduled for sentencing on another date, according to WJZ.
You can see the video of the incident below. WARNING - Language: