- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A former Des Moines police officer who spent less than two years in prison for severely beating a man during a 2008 traffic stop could be put back behind bars after a federal appeals court panel said Thursday his sentence was too lenient.

Mersed Dautovic, 31, was convicted of using excessive force and obstructing justice by a federal jury in 2012. On Thursday, a three-member panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent Dautovic’s case back to a federal district court judge for resentencing.

Dautovic and his police partner John Mailander, 50, stopped a car driven by Erin Evans on Sept. 12, 2008, alleging she failed to immediately yield to their police car’s lights and sirens.

Evans and Octavius Bonds were driving home from a date at the movies; both were in their early 20s and had no criminal records. The two officers aggressively confronted Evans, who they said ignored their commands and attempted to make calls with her cellphone. She was dragged across the road, handcuffed and thrown into the grassy median by Mailander.

Bonds - who the officers said defied their order to stay in the car - was pepper-sprayed, repeatedly beaten and at one point knocked unconscious by a blow to the back of the head from Dautovic’s baton. He needed seven staples to close a gash in his head. The beating continued after he had been handcuffed and placed face-down in the street, resulting in a broken right forearm and left hand.

Bonds and Evans, who are black, were charged with interfering with a police officer; Bonds was also charged with assaulting a police officer. They were found not guilty in March 2009, and federal prosecutors said during the trial that Dautovic and Mailander lied during testimony.

Both officers were charged in federal court with obstruction of justice. Dautovic also was charged with using excessive force against Bonds. Mailander pleaded guilty to obstruction and was sentenced to four months of home confinement and three years of probation.

“These were just young people coming home from the movies,” Judge John A. Jarvey said during the 2012 sentencing hearing for Dautovic. “They did not deserve what happened here.”

However, when he handed down the sentence, Jarvey he concluded federal sentencing guidelines of 11 to 14 years were unreasonable because it was the first offense for Dautovic, who the judge also said had little risk of committing further crimes and had no criminal history. Jarvey imposed a sentence of one year and eight months.

“We conclude that the district court imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence in this case,” Judge Roger Wollman wrote in the appeals court opinion. “Dautovic’s offense conduct was egregious. A police officer beat an innocent victim with a dangerous weapon, causing serious bodily injury and permanent physical damage.”

The judges ordered Jarvey to issue a new sentence consistent with their opinion.

Dautovic was released from prison in January. His attorney, J. Keith Rigg, said he will file a petition seeking a rehearing. If that’s unsuccessful, he said he will consider appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. He declined to comment further.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Klinefeldt, whose office prosecuted the case and appealed the sentence, declined to comment.

Bonds and Evans sued the city, which paid $500,000 in 2011 to settle the case.

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