Puranda testifies; jurors begin deliberations

  • Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:41 a.m.

WINSTON-SALEM — A former Salisbury officer who lifted a suspect over his head and body slammed him in 2007 told a federal court he feared for his safety.

Kareem Cesar Puranda, accused of using excessive force in a pair of 2009 arrests, took the stand as the last witness in his defense Wednesday afternoon. Jurors began deliberating after closing remarks.

Puranda said Wayne Partee’s demeanor and initial resistance forced him to make a quick decision.

“I had to pick him up and take him to the ground ... because I  was afraid he was going for a gun or some other way to harm me,” Puranda told the court Wednesday.

Puranda is charged with repeatedly punching Robin Otto Worth after Worth ran from officers in 2009. A few weeks later, Puranda left Eric Williams unconscious when he struck him in the face with a right jab. Williams was also named in the federal indictment.

Partee and Williams told the court they weren’t resisting arrest when they were injured during incidents involving Puranda.

Puranda addressed not only the Worth and Williams incidents on the stand, but also a former officer’s criticism and the 2007 arrest of Partee.

Like in several of the other cases, Puranda said, he had only a split second to decide how to react to Partee’s resistance to the officer’s pat down.

“I was very concerned for my safety,” he said.

But U.S. Attorney Graham Green didn’t buy it.

Green ripped into Puranda’s decision not to file a report on the incident involving Williams and Puranda’s failure to call for medical attention afterward.

Puranda said he was busy and forgot to fill out the report.

“It was an oversight on my part,” he said.

During cross-examination, Green said Puranda was being investigated by the department for the Worth incident and alleged Puranda deliberately didn’t fill out the report to avoid further repercussions.

The prosecutor also accused former Salisbury officer Amber Burgess and current Officer Chris Hamm of supporting Puranda’s actions, in part, because both officers had been reprimanded by supervisors in the months leading up to Williams’ arrest.

No officer involved, including Hamm and Burgess, filed a “Use of Force” report after seeing Puranda strike Williams. Those reports are required if force is used during an arrest.

Both maintained they felt the appropriate action was taken.

Lt. Andy Efird told the court Tuesday the footage of Puranda hitting Williams was found by accident as he skimmed the tape for another incident.

‘Rapidly evolving event’

Puranda was also asked to give his account of the Worth incident while on the stand Wednesday.

The former cop told the court he chased Worth through several backyards and eventually found him hiding under a bench in a nearby laundromat.

Puranda said he tried to restrain Worth but couldn’t. He gave him “three to four blows” to the head, Puranda said, before another officer stunned Worth with a Taser.

But other officers said Puranda used “inappropriate” force when hitting Worth and said Worth had his hands covering his face during the incident.

“It was a rapidly evolving event,” Puranda said. “I didn’t have much time to think about it.”

Puranda stared deadpanned toward the front of the nearly empty courtroom as lawyers tried to grasp jurors’ attention in the closing remarks Wednesday.

His attorney, Chris Fialko of Charlotte, continued to argue that the officers who testified against Puranda didn’t witness the entire event and that the department’s policy allows officers to make their own decisions as to what level of force to use.

“Different officers can use different levels of force and they can still be reasonable,” Fialko told jurors.

Green countered by saying every person has the right to protection against unreasonable force by police officers.

“It applies to the rich. It applies to the poor. It applies to the innocent. It applies to the guilty,” Green said. “That law was violated by Officer Puranda.”

The case was handed to jurors about 4:45 p.m. and they deliberated until court adjourned for the day at 5:30 p.m.

The jury will reconvene at 9 a.m. today.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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