A Montgomery County police officer seen on video slamming his knee into a handcuffed suspect nearly two years ago was cleared of his misdemeanor assault conviction on Wednesday and will retain his position with the department.

Kevin Moris, 33, received “probation before judgment,” relief often afforded to people in Maryland convicted of relatively minor crimes who have little to no criminal record. A jury had earlier found Moris guilty of assault while acquitting him of misconduct in office. Wednesday’s judgment means the guilty finding will be stricken.

In granting the relief, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Nelson Rupp said Moris’s conduct during the incident stood in contrast to his preceding record as an officer.

“What occurred on July 3rd, 2019, was out character for the defendant and essentially appears to be an isolated incident,” Rupp said, adding that he was taking into account what he’d seen while preceding over Moris’s trial and sentencing. “It is in the best interest of the defendant and it is in the best interest of the public welfare of the community to grant the defendant’s request.”

Moris was placed on administrative leave after the incident and had received a sentence of two years of probation.

He remains employed at the department “and will retain his position as a sworn officer,” said Sgt. Rebecca Innocenti, a police spokeswoman.

After his conviction, the department began an internal affairs investigation of Moris. The results were “commensurate with the Montgomery County disciplinary process,” Innocenti said.

She said she could not elaborate because, by Maryland law, internal affairs matters are considered confidential personnel matters.

Moris’s attorney, Morgan Leigh, said the probation before judgment will clear the way for Moris moving from civilian status back to a sworn officer with all the powers he had before he was charged.

Moris joined the county police 10 years ago. He made his way to a special assignment team, which consists of plainclothes units that conduct surveillance and make arrests. It was in that capacity, at a McDonald’s restaurant in Aspen Hill, that Moris’s actions drew nationwide attention and led to the court case against him.

At the time, Moris and other officers converged on Arnaldo Pesoa, seated in a booth, whom they suspected of trying to meet someone to sell psilocybin mushrooms. The officers got Pesoa on the ground and in handcuffs and led him out. Another struggle ensued, with Pesoa ending up facedown on a sidewalk, still in handcuffs. At least two bystanders began recording the incident on their phones.

In the videos, Moris can be seen grabbing Pesoa’s hair and slamming his right knee down into Pesoa’s neck area. The blow forced Pesoa’s head onto the pavement.

Moris went to trial in December 2019.

“A knee drop to [the] back of the head of an individual in cuffs, on his stomach, with several officers around, can be nothing but a criminal act,” Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Aubin told jurors.

Moris’s attorney, Leigh, countered that he was justified in using force because Pesoa had spit blood at him twice and threatened to again, raising concern about exposure to an infectious disease.

“Spitting blood is a vile, dangerous assault that Kevin was exposed to twice before dropping his body weight down on Arnaldo Pesoa to stop the threat,” Leigh said at trial.

Leigh said she was pleased with Rupp’s ruling on Wednesday.

“I think it was the right result for someone who had an unblemished administrative and criminal record,” she said after the hearing. “It’s a big step in the right direction for his family in being able to move on from this.”

Moris spoke briefly in court Wednesday, calling the past two years a learning experience.

“[I’ve] definitely taken away a lot from it,” he said. “Not just as an individual but also as a police officer as I move forward in my personal life and in my career with the Montgomery County Police Department.”

After his encounter with Moris, Pesoa was taken to jail. He ultimately pleaded guilty to attempting to sell psilocybin mushrooms.

Pesoa was not in court Monday. His father addressed the court, saying the family felt fortunate that Pesoa was not paralyzed or killed from the knee strike.

In June 2020, Pesoa sued Moris and Montgomery County over the encounter. That matter is pending.

“Today’s disposition doesn’t change the fact that one Montgomery County jury has found Officer Moris guilty in the criminal court,” Pesoa’s civil attorney, Timothy Maloney, said Wednesday. “He was convicted because he slammed his knee into a man who was handcuffed and lying facedown. The county executive called the video of this ‘horrifying.’ Now a civil jury will decide how to hold Montgomery County accountable for their officer’s behavior.”

Read more: