Deputy fired after choking man mistaken as carjacking suspect, who later died

Posted at 11:11 AM, Dec 23, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Northern California sheriff announced Friday he is firing a deputy who used a choke hold on a man, who later died, while officers were investigating a suspected carjacking.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said in a video that he found footage of the deputy’s actions “extremely troubling.” The video released by the department includes the body camera footage of the violent encounter between Deputy Charles Blount and David Glen Ward, who had reported his car stolen.

“If you watched the body-worn camera video closely, you may be concerned about what you saw. So was I,” Essick said. “The way Deputy Blount handles the entire situation is extremely troubling. As a result, I’ve served Deputy Blount a notice of termination.”

Ward died the morning of Nov. 27 after two sheriff’s deputies and two Sebastopol police officers mistook him for a stolen car suspect. Ward had reported his green Honda Civic stolen three days earlier by a man who he said pistol-whipped him. He was driving the car when officers tried to pull him over and he refused to stop. When they did eventually pull him over, he did not tell officers he was the vehicle’s owner and Essick said it remains a mystery why he fled from officers.

Ward, who has a blackened left eye, can be heard on the video asking officers “why are you (expletive) harassing me all the time?” Moments later Blount can be seen trying to pull Ward out of the car through the window. Ward screams in pain, saying his legs hurt.

Blount then tells fellow officers Ward bit him and he can be seen pulling Ward by his hair, then slamming his head repeatedly against the side of the car while another officer deploys a stun gun on him.

Blount then puts Ward in a choke hold inside the vehicle for several seconds while other officers break the passenger-side window. When they drag Ward out of the car through, he lies listless on the ground as several officers say he is unconscious.

Ward was pronounced dead at a hospital. The coroner is reviewing the case and has not yet determined a cause of death.

Essick said in an interview Friday that Blount violated several department policies, including use of force, stopping high-risk vehicles, the hostage and barricade procedure and firearms policy. He said Blount also violated safety rules.

“When I watched that video, it was an aberration. It did not meet the expectations of our sheriff’s department or my expectations,” he said.

Essick said the department will review the conduct of each deputy involved, but its investigation began with Blount because “his actions were the most egregious.”

The sheriff said Blount has been on paid administrative leave since the incident.

The Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association did not respond to a request to speak on behalf of Blount Friday.

Ward’s half-sister, Catherine Aguilera, has said her brother used drugs and had health issues that began 20 years ago when a drunken driver hit him while he was riding a motorcycle, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a heart condition. Aguilera said Ward had to carry an oxygen tank and use a walker or a wheelchair.