In-Custody Death: Sonoma County Deputy Lied in Court About Past Carotid Hold

The Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who used a carotid hold during a Nov. 27, 2019, struggle with a suspect who later died has faced allegations of excessive force and was dishonest during testimony about his use of the controversial maneuver during a 2015 arrest. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)

A Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who police say performed a carotid hold on a Petaluma man shortly before he died last week used a similar neck hold on a woman in 2015 and then lied about it in court.

David Glen Ward, 52, died after a car chase and struggle with sheriff’s deputies and police on Nov. 27. Officers from Sebastopol and Sonoma County deputies incorrectly suspected that Ward was driving a stolen vehicle, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the incident. The Marin County Coroner's Office has not yet issued its report on Ward’s cause of death.

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Sonoma County Deputy Jason Little tried to pull Ward over just before 6 a.m. Ward had reported his vehicle stolen three days before, according to Santa Rosa police, and Little was responding to a report from an off-duty detective that the vehicle was located near Frei Road in Sebastopol.

Ward stopped his car, authorities say, and then took off again, leading Little and two Sebastopol police officers on a seven-minute chase. Sonoma County sheriff's Deputy Charles Blount arrived on the scene, and all four officers approached the vehicle, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department.

Police say Ward ignored their orders to open the car door. When Ward rolled down the driver's side window, officers tried to pull him out through the opening. Ward struggled, according to officials, biting the two deputies.

Officers struck and tried to use a Taser on Ward during the struggle. Then Blount reached through the car window and attempted to perform a carotid hold around Ward’s neck, according to officials. The hold involves restricting the vascular arteries on the sides of the subject’s neck with an officer’s arm.

Police finally extracted Ward from the vehicle by breaking the other window and pulling him out through the passenger-side door.

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Minutes after handcuffing Ward, authorities say, deputies noticed he had stopped breathing. Ward was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an internal investigation into whether the two deputies complied with department policies during their attempts to arrest Ward.

The sheriff’s current policy allows deputies to use the carotid when confronting a violent or potentially violent suspect. But the move can turn deadly if applied incorrectly.

On Tuesday, Sonoma County law enforcement’s civilian oversight body recommended the sheriff ban the use of the carotid hold altogether.

Blount has faced multiple allegations of using excessive force in the past. Sonoma County-based defense and civil attorney Izaak Schwaiger said he also lied on the stand about using a carotid hold.

“Deputy Blount is as dishonest a cop as he is a violent one,” Schwaiger said. “That's a horribly dangerous combination.”

Blount and an attorney who had previously represented him did not respond to emails requesting comment.

In 2015, Schwaiger represented a woman named Celeste Moon, who Blount arrested in January of that year for jaywalking and resisting arrest, documents show. During testimony at a hearing in Moon’s criminal case, Blount said he did not use a neck hold on Moon.

“And then we played the video evidence for the court,” Schwaiger said. The video, taken by a bystander, showed Blount wrapping his arm around Moon’s neck and throwing her to the ground. “That matter was dismissed.”

Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite directed prosecutor Scott Uemura to place Blount’s testimony in the DA’s files documenting officers with credibility issues. Prosecutors have a duty to disclose past dishonesty by law enforcement witnesses to defendants under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell wrote in an email that his office did review the case to determine if Blount should be placed on the DA’s “Brady list,” and asked the sheriff for any evidence of relevant misconduct in his file.

“We were notified there was none,” Staebell wrote. He said he couldn’t disclose whether Blount was ultimately placed on the list.

A portion of a transcript of an April 15, 2015, Sonoma County Superior Court hearing in which Deputy Charles Blount denies using a carotid hold or putting his arms around a defendant's neck.

In 2015, Sonoma County settled a federal lawsuit with a man named Marlon Whitmore, who alleged that deputies, including Blount, used excessive force on him in 2011. Civil rights attorney John Burris, who represented Whitmore in the case, said the settlement was for about $375,000.

Lloyd Beardsley filed a suit in 2016 claiming that he was complying with the officer’s commands when Blount tackled him, punched him in the face and arrested him for public intoxication, fighting and resisting arrest. The fighting charge was dismissed and a jury ultimately found Beardsley not guilty of the other two charges.

“My client felt completely victimized by Blount, when he felt that Blount should have been protecting him,” Beardsley’s civil attorney, Katy Young, wrote in an emailed response. She said the lawsuit settled for a “low monetary amount.”

In court filings, the attorneys representing the  county and Blount disputed the plaintiffs' excessive force claims in both cases.

Blount also used a carotid hold on a severely intoxicated man in 2015, police reports show. The man was initially unconscious, but woke up and became “uncooperative” when deputies tried to handcuff him. Then Blount used the hold.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said they couldn’t comment on Blount’s past conduct because of the ongoing investigation into Ward’s death by Santa Rosa police.

Santa Rosa Lt. Dan Marincik said via email that his department is focused on the criminal investigation of the incident.

“If there is a nexus between the prior patterns of an officer or deputies [sic] behavior and the criminal investigation we are currently conducting, that is something that we would then look into in greater detail,” Marincik wrote.

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