A Montgomery County police officer was criminally charged Tuesday with assault and misconduct after cellphone videos surfaced that appear to show him using his shin to force a man’s head onto a concrete sidewalk during an arrest.
The officer, Kevin Moris, faces one count each of second-degree assault and misconduct in office, according to a criminal information complaint filed by county prosecutors. Montgomery’s acting police chief, Marcus Jones, said the videos showed “troubling evidence” that excessive force was used during the encounter, which began inside a McDonald’s restaurant.
“The excessiveness of the officer, Officer Moris, actually slamming the individual’s head to the pavement — this gave me grave concern,” Jones said at a news conference Tuesday.
Videos of the July 3 altercation went viral on social media. In one 45-second clip, a group of Montgomery officers is seen standing over Arnaldo Andres Pesoa, 19, who was suspected of trying to sell psilocybin mushrooms in the area. Pesoa is seen lying facedown on the pavement, handcuffed, just outside the McDonald’s as he yells obscenities.
Moris can be seen leaning over Pesoa, who lifts his head, prompting Moris to use his right hand to grab a patch of Pesoa’s hair while thrusting his right shin into the back of Pesoa’s neck. The video shows Pesoa’s head striking the sidewalk.
While the video appears to show Pesoa resisting, it does not seem to present him as an imminent threat when Moris jabs him with his shin. “I felt like the officers did have that situation under control,” Jones said.
After hitting the concrete, Pesoa turns his head and yells that he has spit on the officer’s foot. At that point, Pesoa is told to “stop spitting” as Moris pulls the suspect’s shirt over his face.
“Mr. Pesoa did require medical attention on the scene as a result of injuries he sustained during the course of his apprehension,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
Efforts to reach Moris or learn whether he has retained an attorney were not successful Tuesday. A person who answered a phone number linked to him declined to comment and hung up. Online court records did not show whether he has hired an attorney.
Moris is a seven-year veteran of the department, most recently assigned to a plainclothes unit in the county’s Wheaton police district, according to police officials.
The union that represents county officers, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, declined to comment Tuesday on the specifics of the case.
“Without knowing anything more than what has been shown in the viral videos posted, the FOP will not make a statement without knowing all the facts,” the union said in a statement. “Officer Moris, like all U.S. citizens, is innocent until proven guilty and has a right to due process under law.”
The charges come amid mounting criticism of the incident from local officials and activists. Late last week, the president and vice president of the Montgomery County Council issued a statement condemning the officer’s actions.
“We are outraged and deeply saddened to watch the videos that show a young man being apprehended by Montgomery County Police officers using what appears to be excessive force,” wrote President Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) and Vice President Sidney Katz (D-District 3), who also chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee.
On Tuesday afternoon, Navarro praised the swift action taken by Jones and McCarthy and commended the rank and file of the department.
“It is important to reiterate that the Montgomery County Police Department is made up of men and women of integrity who pride themselves on high standards as they keep our county safe,” she wrote. “However, effective accountability and oversight are essential to develop and maintain trust between the police and our community.”
Several days ago, the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice announced that it would hold a rally and news conference Tuesday night demanding that Moris be charged. Attendees were encouraged to bring signs with suggested slogans. Among them: “Stop Police Brutality,” “Not in My County” and “We Demand Accountability.”
The group gave an update on its Facebook page Tuesday.
“Tonight’s protest is on,” it said. “We demand systemic changes to MCPD.”
The charges were brought relatively swiftly and reflected the stern tone taken by police administrators after the incident. They suspended Moris of his police powers, moved him to administrative duties and launched a criminal investigation.
Jones and McCarthy stayed in regular contact over the past few days, according to McCarthy. On Tuesday, McCarthy’s office filed charges by way of a “criminal information” submission, meaning prosecutors made the decision without showing the matter to a grand jury.
The altercation outside the McDonald’s stemmed from an undercover operation into alleged sales of psilocybin mushrooms in the Aspen Hill area. Officers had identified Pesoa as a suspect, found him inside the McDonald’s and tried to arrest him.
“Pesoa became disorderly with the officers inside the restaurant and resisted the arrest,” police said in a statement. “Officers eventually removed Pesoa from the restaurant. While outside the restaurant, Pesoa continued to act in a disorderly manner and resist arrest.”
Pesoa was taken to jail and charged with drug possession, attempted drug distribution, resisting arrest and second-degree assault, police said. He was released after posting a $5,000 bond, according to police.