ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County prosecutors have charged police officer Kevin Moris with second-degree assault and misconduct in office following a July 3 incident where he was seen kneeing a handcuffed suspect.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy and Acting County Police Chief Marcus Jones announced the charges on July 9 after video of the incident spread throughout social media. Moris, 31, would originally resign to administrative duty, has been suspended and placed on administrative leave until the criminal case is completed.
“It’s a sad day when Marcus and I have to stand here and charge a Montgomery County Police Officer,” McCarthy said.
According to a July 5 statement, MCP officers from the 4th District were conducting an undercover operation regarding 18-year-old Arnaldo Pesoa. Police believed he was selling psilocybin mushrooms in the Aspen Hill area.
During the arrest at the McDonald’s on Connecticut Avenue, MCP said that Pesoa “became disorderly” and resisted arrest. In videos showing of Pesoa’s arrest, he can be heard cursing at the officers and, at one point stated, “I just spit on your f**ing foot.”
As the arrest moved outside the establishment, Moris was seen pulling Pesoa’s hair and shoving his knee onto the suspect’s head, driving it on the ground. The footage shows Pesoa’s face was bloodied during the incident. Once videos of the arrest were posted online, MCP announced an investigation into the arrest and sent their results to the state attorney’s office for review.
“He was physically resisting even though, and I stress this happens with individuals that are handcuffed,” Jones said. “When I saw it, it bothered me on the standpoint of the excessiveness of Officer Moris actually slamming the individual’s head into the pavement. (It) just gave me grave concern and I took that matter very seriously.”
Pesoa was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, resisting and interfering with his arrest and second-degree assault. His preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 2 in Rockville District Court. He was released after posting a $5,000 bond. However, McCarthy said his office has not decided if they will move forward with their case on Pesoa following Moris’ charges.
“This has been a fast-moving matter these past couple of days,” McCarthy said. “That is not a question that we have decided on and quite candidly, there were a number of police officers involved in this particular case. We will be reviewing that and a final decision has not been made.”
This is the second incident of late in which police officers are being investigated for allegedly abusing suspects. In a May 9 incident, a white female Silver Spring police officer was seen on video using the n-word and mocking two African American men at a McDonald’s parking lot in White Oak. Both police and members of the county council said that the investigation is ongoing and no date has been set for it to be completed.
Following the release of the videos, local politicians called for immediate investigations into the matter. While stating that not all officers act this way, Councilmember Tom Hucker said that police misbehavior needs to be addressed by the current MCP leadership. It will be important for the future permanent police chief to do the same once they are installed, Hucker added.
“Obviously, it’s a very troubling incident,” said Hucker. “I think there are real serious questions concerning training, discipline and accountability,”
Councilmember Will Jawando, whose LETT Act bill called for increased transparency in situations where there is a police officer-involved shooting, called the decision to charge Moris “appropriate.” He added that this is not the first time he has heard the officer’s name in prior MCP misconduct incidences.
“While this was an individual officer that acted inappropriately, I think that we need to discuss the fact that the rest of the officers present did not stop this behavior,” Jawando said in a statement. “In addition, if concerns had been brought about this specific officer over time, why did the department allow this officer to continue to interact with our residents? These are some questions that I think should be answered.”
During the press conference, Jones said the recent amount of incidents with police officers gives him “a great deal of concern.” He said that it will affect how the community views the force and how others interested in joining the police will view the profession moving forward. It will be important to implement better training strategies, Jones said.
MCP Captain Thomas Jordan, the director of public information, called police training in Montgomery County “some of the best training out there. It’s a matter of consistency and having refreshers.”
“We are very dynamic with how we change our training, and we keep up with all of this,” Jordan added. “I don’t support what the officer did (and) that it is not okay to restrain someone’s neck with a knee…That’s not all of us.”
Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro announced that Jones will meet with the council on July 23 to talk about strategies for community-police relations including de-escalation and other police training concerns. The meeting will establish a dialogue between the county and police officials to “make our county a safe place for all our residents.”
“I have met with many officers who are dedicated to protecting and serving our communities fairly and with respect,” County Executive Marc Elrich said. “However, incidents like this erode the trust people have in law enforcement.”
José Umaña contributed to this story.