Deputies' Blunt Force, Neck Hold, Taser Caused Petaluma Man's Death

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A screenshot from body-camera video of the Nov. 27 in-custody of death of David Glen Ward shows former Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Blount as he grabs Ward by the head, a few seconds before slamming Ward's face against the car's door frame. (Via Sonoma County Sheriff)

Editor's note: The video embedded in this story depicts violence and contains profanity. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sonoma County deputies killed a Petaluma man when they choked him, slammed his head into a car door and tased him during a struggle late last year, according to findings released by the Marin County coroner Thursday evening.

David Glen Ward died on Nov. 27, 2019, after leading Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies and Sebastopol police officers, who incorrectly suspected Ward was driving a stolen vehicle, on a car chase. Ward came to a stop at a dead-end road in rural Sebastopol, and that’s when efforts to get the 52 year old out of the car turned violent and ultimately deadly.

Body-camera video of the incident shows former Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Blount reaching through the car’s window, wrapping his arm around Ward’s neck and then slamming his head repeatedly into the side of the car. Minutes later, as Ward lay face down and handcuffed on the ground, he stopped breathing.

The coroner found Ward’s death was caused by cardiorespiratory collapse, further listing blunt impact injuries, neck restraint and the use of a Taser as causes. The final direct cause listed was a “physical confrontation with law enforcement.”

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said in December he served Blount with a notice of termination.

"If you watch the body-worn camera video closely, you may be concerned by what you saw. So was I," Essick said in a recorded statement at the time. "The way Deputy Blount handles the entire situation is extremely troubling."

Blount retired on Feb. 7, according to the sheriff’s spokesman. The spokesman declined to comment on the coroner’s findings but said an internal investigation is still proceeding.

The coroner listed several conditions that contributed to Ward’s death, including acute methamphetamine intoxication, chronic drug use and pre-existing physical and mental health issues.

Harry Stern, Blount's attorney, said findings indicating heart failure in combination with methamphetamine use "comes as no surprise."

"This was a very unfortunate but justifiable use of force," Stern wrote in an emailed response.

The coroner determined Ward’s death was a homicide.


The Santa Rosa Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation under an interagency agreement to investigate in-custody deaths. The coroner in neighboring Marin County investigated Ward’s death because the incident involved Sonoma County deputies, releasing summary cause and manner of death findings on Thursday.

The Santa Rosa Police Department’s criminal investigation of the incident has been on hold due to COVID-19, according to Santa Rosa police Lt. Dan Marincik.

“Unfortunately, we had to temporarily assign our detectives to work patrol during this pandemic,” Marincik wrote in an email. “Hopefully, they will be getting reassigned back to their positions in the near future and we can finish everything.”

More on the Death of David Glen Ward

Sonoma County Assistant District Attorney William Brockley said his office is waiting on those reports from the Santa Rosa Police Department to review for any criminal charges.

Ward’s family has filed a claim against the city. Their attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, said the most surprising thing about the coroner’s findings was simply how long it took to get them. He also said the fact that Santa Rosa police have put the criminal investigation on hold indicates they are not taking Ward’s homicide seriously.

“If this had been a civilian who caused this death, do you think they would be putting it on hold?” Schwaiger said. “They don't think a crime was committed.”

Despite the coroner’s determination of what caused Ward’s death, questions remain about the strange and tragic series of events that led up to his fatal encounter with deputies.

“One of the great mysteries in David's case is going to be why he ran from the police,” Schwaiger said. “We don't really know, but certainly, a mental health history, you know, is going to contribute to that.”

On Nov. 24, Ward reported that his car had been stolen and that he’d been pistol whipped by a man living as a caretaker on his property, according to the sheriff.

At some point, Ward recovered his car, but the authorities said he didn’t notify them. When an off-duty Santa Rosa detective reported seeing the vehicle early on the morning of Nov. 27, Sonoma County Deputy Jason Little responded, and tried to pull over the green Honda.

Ward initially stopped his car, but then drove off.

Little and two Sebastopol police officers chased Ward through Sonoma County backroads for about seven minutes. At one point police performed what’s called a PIT maneuver – colliding with the Honda – in an attempt to incapacitate Ward’s vehicle.

Video of the incident shows the chase stopping at a dead end in the community of Bloomfield, about five miles from where it began, and officers, including Deputy Charles Blount, yelling at Ward to show his hands and get out of the vehicle.

Ward appears to be having difficulty opening the door, and video of the incident seems to indicate the door was damaged as a result of being struck by the police car during the chase.

"I can't believe this,” Ward says, rolling down his window. “I'm the injured party here ... Why are you fucking harassing me all the time?"

Blount reaches in through the car window and tries unsuccessfully to pull Ward out. Ward starts to cry out in pain, and Little says his legs are pinned under the steering wheel. Little and Ward can both be heard saying that Ward is biting them. Blount then grabs the 52 year old by the head and slams it against the door frame – first with a glancing blow, then a second time, producing a loud cracking sound. At the same time, Ward is hit by Little’s Taser.

Finally, police officers from Sebastopol get Ward out through the passenger side of the vehicle, place him on the ground and handcuff him. Ward stops breathing.

As more officers arrive on the scene, Deputy Nick Jax recognizes Ward as the carjacking victim.

"Then why did he run?" Little asks.

"I don't know why he ran," Jax responds. "He had no reason to run. I was out with him like two hours ago at his house."

"Oh well,” Blount says.

Blount has a history of dishonest testimony and improper use of a neck hold.

In 2015, he used a neck hold on a woman, and then lied about it in court. Schwaiger said the sheriff should have done something about Blount’s misconduct then.

Schwaiger said it’s been nearly six months since Ward died, and his family is still waiting for answers.

“David's life had value,” Schwaiger said. “It had value, and he was loved by his family and he loved them in return, and that's all gone now. And it's not something that should be ignored. It's not something that should be minimized.”