2021 | Courts

Judge vacates assault conviction of police officer who kneed teen in head during arrest

Officer remains with department; union says he ‘accepted internal discipline’

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A Montgomery County judge has vacated an assault conviction against a police officer who kneed a teen in the head during an arrest almost two years ago.

In August, Circuit Court Judge Nelson Rupp had sentenced Montgomery County police Officer Kevin Moris to two years of probation. A jury had convicted Moris on Dec. 12, 2019, of the assault charge and acquitted him of a misconduct charge.

On Wednesday, following a hearing to reconsider the sentence, Rupp instead granted Moris probation before judgment and stayed the jury’s assault conviction, Trina Armstrong, an administrative aide in Rupp’s office, told Bethesda Beat on Monday.

In Maryland, under probation before judgment, a defendant completes the terms of probation for a set period, then has the criminal charge dropped. It does not result in a conviction.

Moris will remain a sworn officer with the department, according to a spokeswoman.

Moris, now 33, was one of multiple officers who arrested Arnaldo Pesoa, then 19, on July 3, 2019, at an Aspen Hill McDonald’s after Pesoa was accused of selling hallucinogenic mushrooms. A video of the arrest posted to social media showed Moris kneeing Pesoa in the back of the head while Pesoa was lying on his stomach being handcuffed.

The State’s Attorney’s Office charged Moris with assault and misconduct in office a few days after the video surfaced.

Rupp sentenced Moris to two years of probation in August 2020, Moris filed for a reconsideration of his sentence on Sept. 9, according to state court records.

The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday’s reconsideration hearing.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the county’s police union, wrote in a statement to Bethesda Beat on Monday afternoon that Rupp’s decision to grant probation before judgment for Moris was “consistent with any other citizen in the state of Maryland.”

“The court granted a PBJ after finding that Officer Moris had no previous criminal history, a favorable work history, and was convicted of a misdemeanor,” the statement read. “Lodge 35 believes Judge Rupp acted with impartiality when he handed down his decision.”

The police union’s statement noted that Moris “accepted the internal discipline proposed by the police chief and will move forward with his career as a law enforcement officer,” but did not give further details.

Moris had been placed on administrative leave following his indictment in 2019.

Sgt. Rebecca Innocenti, a police spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday that Moris remains employed with the department and will retain his position as a sworn officer.

“At the conclusion of the criminal trial this matter was referred to the Office of Internal Affairs, consistent with department policy and Maryland State Law,” she wrote. “The result of that investigation was commensurate with the Montgomery County disciplinary process.”

Innocenti declined to comment further, writing that “internal affairs matters are confidential personnel matters” under state law.

Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the State’s Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday: “The State’s Attorney’s Office investigated, charged and obtained a conviction in regards to the Aspen Hill assault by then officer Kevin Moris.”

“Under Maryland law he is entitled to a reconsideration of his sentence. That is what transpired yesterday and we will not comment further on this matter,” he wrote.

Korionoff referred all other questions to Rupp and to Moris’s attorney, Morgan Leigh.

During the sentencing hearing in August, Leigh advocated for probation before judgment. She told reporters following the hearing that she planned to file a motion for reconsideration of probation before judgment.

Leigh could not be reached for comment on Thursday, Friday or Monday.

State’s Attorney John McCarthy had said in August that even though it wasn’t his decision, he thought it would be “difficult” for Moris to go back to the department.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com