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Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Update 1:33 p.m.
WINSTON-SALEM — Former Salisbury Officer Kareem Puranda took the stand in his defense today as the second day of federal trial continues. Puranda’s attorney, Chris Fialko of Charlotte, walked the ex-cop through each incident where Puranda was alleged to have used excessive force, including two that were named in the federal indictment. Puranda is accused of violating two men’s civil rights during arrests in the summer of 2009. Those men — Robin Otto Worth and Eric Williams — testified Tuesday. Fialko also revisited previously shown in-car camera footage with Puranda on the stand Wednesday. In a video of Wayne Partee’s arrest, Puranda said he couldn’t get Partee to comply with his commands and felt threatened. “I was very concerned for my safety,” Puranda said. The defense is expected to wrap up shortly after lunch and jurors could begin deliberating immediately. Check Thursday’s Post for more information.
WINSTON-SALEM — Jurors appeared to sense the loud thud Eric Williams would have made as Salisbury officers slammed him onto the hood of a patrol car and seemingly into jurors’ laps as they watched in-car camera footage Tuesday. But with no sound on the video, the federal courtroom where Kareem Cesar Puranda sat waiting was filled with an eerie silence, punctured only by a single gasp when the embattled officer struck Williams with a quick right to the face in the footage. Williams, who is named in the federal indictment against Puranda, was one of several who took the stand, accusing the former Salisbury officer of excessive force during arrests in 2007 and 2009. “Shock, really,” Williams said of his arrest in the summer of ‘09. “I didn’t know what was happening.” Officers testified that they chased a man they believed to be Williams and arrested him at a house on Broad Street. He said he was standing on the street with a friend as officers chased another man wearing similar clothes. The dash-cam video showed Officer Chris Hamm assisting Puranda by escorting Williams to the hood of a patrol car shortly after. As Hamm began placing cuffs on him, Williams appears to turn his head to the left. Officer Ronald Foster, who was arriving from behind his fellow officers, later said he thought Williams was going to run. “At first I thought he was going to run, but then it was immediate to me that he was going to say something to Officer Hamm,” Foster said. But Williams didn’t get the chance after the quick jab left him unconscious on the hood of the white Ford. Foster, who watched the video of Williams’ blow to the head again Tuesday, told the court he thought the use of force was inappropriate. “It’s not something that I would have done,” he said. Puranda’s attorney, Chris Fialko, argued Puranda, like in the other cases, thought Williams was fleeing. “Policemen across our country have a dangerous job,” Fialko said during his opening statement. “One of the more dangerous situations is when a suspect is on the run. These are uncertain moments.” Still, U.S. Attorney Graham Green thundered away as he tried to lay a foundation for claims of excessive force used in Puranda’s arrests. Green also put Wayne Partee and Robin Otto Worth on the stand — two men who were both hospitalized after incidents with Puranda. Another dash-cam showed footage of Puranda picking the much larger Partee over his head before slamming him to the ground during an arrest in 2007. Partee suffered a broken collar bone during the incident. Xanax pills and marijuana were found on his person during the arrest. Fialko, Puranda’s attorney, argued Partee resisted arrest by refusing to keep his hands behind his back as he was searched. Partee said he never moved his hands after he was forced against the car’s trunk. “As he got me around the car, he had his knee on my back,” Partee recalled. “He picked me up and slammed me on my head. I blacked out.” Robin Worth provided probably the most colorful testimony — smiling at one point as Fialko recounted the numerous charges and parole violations he racked up in the last 15 years. But Worth, the other victim named in the indictment, also gave the court another perspective as he explained an incident in 2009 where he grabbed a bag of marijuana from his trunk and ran from officers into a nearby laundromat. Puranda, Det. Brent Hall and Officer Chris Brooks tracked Worth down under a bench in the business. There, Worth said, Puranda punched him repeatedly in the face. “He had his way with me,” Worth said. Both Hall and Brooks recalled Puranda punching Worth several times, but differed in some of the details of the arrest. Brooks said he stunned Worth with a Taser to end the “confrontation.” “I’m glad you Tased me because I thought he was going to kill me,” Brooks recalled Worth saying of Puranda after the incident. Brooks told the court Puranda also kept mouthing off at Worth after the incident. “It was kind of antagonizing,” Brooks said. Brooks, like several other officers who testified on various incidents, said the use of force during the arrest was “inappropriate.” Green showed Worth a photo of his bloodied face after the incident. “Can you describe this photo for me?” the prosecutor asked. “It looks like somebody that got beat with an ugly stick,” Worth responded, noting that he recognized the photo as himself following the arrest. The photo, which was later displayed to jurors, showed a close up shot of Worth’s face covered in bright red blood with a large gash above his right eyebrow. Worth said he received about 16 stitches from the struggle. Fialko argued that in none of the instances were Puranda’s fellow officers there for the entire duration of the incidents. In several, officers saw either the beginning or the end. Fialko said the compounding factors led Puranda to make reasonable use of force decisions in each case. When chasing Worth through backyards and across fences, Fialko said, only Puranda was able to track the convicted felon to the laundromat. “And then you lost Officer Hunter because he wasn’t able to jump the fence, right?” Fialko asked Worth. “I lost them all,” he said with a slight smirk. Attorneys began with opening statements to a nearly empty courtroom Tuesday morning. In the abbreviated, three-row chamber only Puranda’s wife sat in attendance. The prosecution called eight witnesses, five former or current Salisbury cops and the three alleging civil rights violations. The government rested about 4:30 p.m. and Fialko began immediately after, calling only one witness — Officer Hamm — before the break. The defense will resume Wednesday morning and could rest by Wednesday afternoon, Fialko said. If so, jurors could begin deliberation subsequently thereafter.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.