WATCH: Fired South Daytona Cop Found Not Guilty of Battery on Handcuffed Suspect

Jan 5, 2016

A South Daytona Police officer who was fired after he was accused of striking a handcuffed suspect sitting in the back of a patrol car has been found not guilty of battery.

Officer John Zack Pickett testified that he felt spit on his face and reacted to what he thought was a threat last year when he saw Parker Beasley, who was in the back of the squad car, thrusting his head toward him and pushed the man’s face away.

Pickett’s tearful wife hugged him moments after County Judge Bryan Feigenbaum issued his ruling in the nonjury trial. The courtroom filled with applause from Pickett’s supporters, which included current and former police officers and members of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association. Pickett’s parents also embraced him.

Pickett was charged with misdemeanor battery and if convicted faced up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Pickett was charged by the State Attorney’s Office after a police car video showed him striking Beasley in the head on Jan. 23.

Police Chief Ron Wright fired Pickett after the incident. But an arbitrator ruled that Pickett must get his job back or a similar position with back pay.

Arbitrator Alan S. Lunin ruled that Pickett had not used excessive force, according to a release from the city of South Daytona.

Pickett, a veteran officer who was instrumental in making arrests in the murder of a retired used car salesman, was fired in May after the police department found that he used unnecessary force and lied during the internal affairs investigation.

Pickett testified on Tuesday that he didn’t remember exactly which hand he used to push Beasley away on Jan. 23.

“I specifically remember responding to a threat that was coming at me and that’s it,” Pickett said.

Prosecutor David Cromartie asked Pickett whether he knew that Beasley was handcuffed, agitated and intoxicated when he approached him as the suspect sat in the police car. Pickett said he did.

Pickett demonstrated how he said he pushed Beasley away by extending an open hand.

“I see him coming at me and I do this,′ Pickett said.

Beasley had been arrested by then Officer Stephen Corbin, who is now with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, who said he found marijuana in the man’s backpack. Beasley’s hands were cuffed behind him and he was sitting in the backseat of Corbin’s patrol car parked behind the South Daytona police station. Video played during the trial showed an agitated Beasley screaming obscenities and demanding to know why he was arrested.

Pickett testified that he had been looking to talk to Beasley for two months about another case so he approached the police car.

Beasley, who is serving time on a domestic battery charge, testified earlier that he did not spit on Pickett. Beasley testified that he had a vague recollection of the incident but did recall being hit by Pickett. The video shows Beasley becoming further enraged after he said he was hit by the officer, screaming about Pickett slapping him.

Pickett’s defense attorney Martin White argued that Pickett felt threatened by Beasley.

“Mr. Beasley thrust himself toward my client which was an assault,” White said.

Chief Wright was called by White, who asked him if Pickett had had any training in hand-to-hand defensive tactics. Wright said that Pickett was trained in defensive tactics once a year but not solely on hand-to-hand.

In his termination letter to Pickett written on May 26, Wright told the officer that it didn’t matter whether he had struck Beasley with an open or closed hand, with the right or left hand. What matters, Wright said, is that Pickett’s reaction was inappropriate, especially since Beasley had not lunged at him until after the detective struck him, the investigation shows.

Pickett declined comment after the verdict.