Puranda acquitted on excessive force charges
WINSTON-SALEM — With both hands pressed flat against the defendant’s table, Kareem Puranda leaned forward and sobbed Thursday as a federal court clerk read out the second of two not guilty verdicts.
Overcome with emotion, Puranda — who was on trial on two counts of violating the civil rights of two suspects he arrested in 2009 — was seemingly unable to look up until jurors exited the courtroom.
The tense few seconds capped more than three-and-a-half hours of deliberation.
Puranda’s attorney, Chris Fialko, placed his arm around his client as a gray-haired, bespectacled foreman confirmed the jury’s unanimous decision on both counts.
After the verdict, Fialko told the Post he thought jurors sympathized with authorities’ need to make quick decisions when dealing with suspects and Puranda’s decision to use force against Eric Williams and Robin Otto Worth in the 2009 arrests.
Several officers who testified for the defense said Puranda’s actions were appropriate.
“I think that what this shows is that police have a very difficult job,” Fialko said. “The fact that different officers have different opinions shows that it’s a gray line on this issue.”
Through his attorney Puranda declined to comment, but Fialko said the former officer was “pleased” with the outcome.
“Clearly we’re pleased with the verdict,” he said on the courthouse steps. “Kareem is very pleased to have this ordeal over.”
Puranda was all smiles as he and his wife walked down the steps of Hiram H. Ward Federal Building about 12:30 p.m. His wife, who sat alone most days in the benches behind her husband, blotted her eyes with a tissue after the verdict was read.
Just two hours earlier, jurors re-entered the courtroom and asked U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder to again see footage of Puranda punching Williams in the face.
After an initial viewing, the foreman asked, “Your honor, could you play it one more time up to the point where he’s struck?”
Puranda didn’t appear overly nervous until just moments before the jury notified court officials that a verdict was selected.
Once jurors made notice, clerks worked to quickly notify all involved parties of the decision.
Puranda then leaned to his right, in front of Fialko, and called out to U.S. Attorney Graham Green, who prosecuted the case.
He then shook Green’s hand.
“Thank you for your service,” Puranda whispered.
As Green said in his closing remarks, he tried to portray Puranda as a “cop who lost his temper” in incidents with the two men.
Green spent most of Tuesday showing in-car video of Williams and another of Wayne Partee, who Puranda lifted over his head and body slammed during an arrest. Partee was not listed in the federal indictment.
Aside from Williams, Robin Otto Worth was the only other victim named. Drugs were seized from both Worth and Partee following the arrests and Fialko made sure to delve into criminal records of several of the accusers.
Puranda is working on a second master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and has married since the incidents. He told the court he plans to work with a non-profit organization to aid members of disadvantaged communities.
Just before jurors pushed through the hideaway wood-paneled jury room door around noon, Puranda closed his eyes for a few moments.
“Kareem always wanted to be a good police officer,” his attorney said later. “He’s been very stoic throughout the process — at the end of any ordeal, I think emotions can burst out.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.