Video: Fla. cop honored by local Marines for de-escalation tactics

Officer John Bellanti talked down a suspect who had battered and threatened to kill two women last month at an apartment complex


By Tony Holt
The News-Journal

SOUTH DAYTONA, Fla. — Officer John Bellanti didn't see it coming.

The rookie South Daytona policeman and U.S. Marine Corps reservist walked into the conference room at police headquarters Wednesday morning and saw the room packed with fellow Marines donning red shirts. They were members of the Marine Corps League Detachment 658 and they were there to honor Bellanti's actions. Instead of physical aggression, he used friendly words to control a suspect who had battered and threatened to kill two women last month at an apartment complex.

Bellanti was honored to be recognized by close to a dozen Marine Corps veterans, nearly all of whom exchanged "hoorahs!" and "Semper Fis!" during the surprise ceremony.

"There are people out there who do way more than I did," Bellanti told the group of onlookers, who included South Daytona Police Chief Ron Wright and Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri. "I'm very proud of this department and I thank you for having me."

The 26-year-old Bellanti, who was only five months on the job on Feb. 8, de-escalated a situation involving a mentally ill suspect who had attacked a woman inside a leasing office at Marcell Garden Apartments, police said.

Police said Terrence Dixon, 22, walked into the office and told an employee that he wanted to kill someone. Another employee called 9-1-1. During her conversation with the operator, Dixon got irritated and grabbed the other employee in the office, according to an arrest report, and he tried to stab her with his apartment key and then yanked her hair and started thrashing her back and forth in an attempt to snap her neck.

The other employee jumped on him and punched him in an effort to get her to let go. Eventually Dixon trashed the office by breaking flower pots and ripping pictures down.

Bellanti arrived on the scene with a sergeant. Dixon threatened the sergeant, at which time Bellanti stepped forward and talked to Dixon, successfully calming him down before taking him into custody, police said. The police officer's body camera captured video of his exchanges with the suspect.

Dixon remained in the Volusia County Branch Jail on Wednesday. He is charged with attempted murder and criminal mischief. His bail was set at $55,000.

Wright told The Daytona Beach News-Journal that he was proud of the young police officer. He also said he wants everyone in his command to be trained on de-escalation tactics.

David Owen, the commandant of the detachment, presented Bellanti with an award for his response.

"He's doing his job as a police officer, which is a heck of a job as it is," Owen said. "But he's doing his job while upholding the values of the Marine Corps. He went above and beyond the call of duty."

Bellanti was visibly humbled by the gesture. He posed for photos and personally thanked everyone who attended. He said the process of getting hired by South Daytona police was a lengthy one, but he feels satisfied with his decision and thankful that the department hired him.

"I feel like I'm at home and that's the best feeling," said Bellanti, who is a Buffalo, New York, native. "It's a small-family atmosphere. Everyone cares for you here."

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©2017 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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