Bloomfield, CA – A Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy has been fired for his role in the fatal takedown of a suspect who fled from police in a car that was reported stolen, but turned out to be the owner of the stolen car (video below).
The incident began on Nov. 27 when Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies were alerted to the presence of a suspected stolen vehicle by Santa Rosa police, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Little and two Sebastopol police officers tried to stop the green Honda Civic that had been reported stolen in an armed carjacking a few days earlier, The Press Democrat reported.
“It started when we received a call from the Santa Rosa police department that a car which had been stolen during carjacking several days prior had been located and was on the move,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said in an introduction to the bodycam video. “Our deputies responded and tried to pull it over.”
Deputies learned after the incident that the car was being driven by its owner, 52-year-old David Ward, who had somehow recovered the stolen vehicle but not notified police about it, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But when the then-unidentified driver fled from police in the car, leading officers on a pursuit, according to The Press Democrat.
Deputies and officers chased the Honda and finally used a PIT maneuver and blocked it in when they hit a dead end in Bloomfield.
Bodycam video showed that Deputy Little opened his car door and pointed his weapon at the green Honda.
Then he ordered the driver to show him his hands and then to turn off the car, the video showed.
Ward failed to comply with the deputy’s commands and kept putting his hands back down where they couldn’t be seen.
“I don’t see any weapons, I’m going to move back to you guys,” Deputy Little announced in the video, and then backed up and took cover behind his vehicle with the other deputies and officers.
A moment later, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Blount arrived on the scene, and then the video showed that he and Deputy Little approached the driver’s door of the suspect vehicle.
Deputy Blount took up a position just behind the driver’s door and Deputy Little stood further away, in front of the driver.
Both deputies had their weapons pointed in Ward’s direction as Deputy Blount ordered the man to unlock his car door, the video showed.
Ward moved like he was unlocking his car door multiple times but did not actually do so.
He finally succeed in putting down the car window, the video showed.
“I can’t believe this, I’m the injured party,” Ward told the deputy in the video but never identified himself as the owner of the previously-stolen automobile.
“Don’t move your f--king hand,” Deputy Blount told Ward.
“Why are you harassing me all the time?” Ward asked.
Deputy Blount told Ward to give him his hands and began trying to pull the driver out of the car through the window, the video showed.
But Ward’s leg was stuck under the steering wheel and he continued to struggle with the deputies.
And then he bit Deputy Blount, the video showed.
“He bit me!” Deputy Blount said.
Deputy Little and Deputy Blount continued trying to pull Ward from the car with the help of Sebastopol officers.
Then Deputy Little cried out in pain, the video showed.
“Ah, motherf--ker he just bit me,” Deputy Little said.
But the law enforcement officers continued to try and pull Ward through the window of his vehicle.
The video showed one of the officers went around to the passenger side of the vehicle to try and help free the suspect.
Then the video showed Deputy Blount grabbed Ward by the hair and pulled his head out of the car window and then smashed his head against the doorframe as Deputy Little deployed a Taser at the same time.
Deputy Blount wrapped his arm around Ward’s neck in what the sheriff later described as an improper carotid hold, according to The Press Democrat.
The sheriff’s department called a carotid hold a controversial tactic that was rarely used by deputies.
The video showed that Deputy Blount kept Ward in the hold for more than a minute while he ordered the suspect to “stop moving,” The Press Democrat reported.
Another deputy arrived on the scene at that point and told Deputies Blount and Little that Ward was actually the victim of the carjacking.
“Then why did he run?” Deputy Little asked on the video.
“I don’t know why he ran,” the other deputy replied. “You have every, all this, it’s all legit.”
“Oh well,” Deputy Blount said.
Officers removed Ward from the car and put him face down on the ground to handcuff him.
Seconds later, one of the officers said Ward had stopped breathing.
“Start CPR on him,” Deputy Blount said in the video.
Ward was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Marin County Coroner’s Office will investigate the cause of death in the incident.
Sheriff Essick said he waited to release the bodycam video until investigators had an opportunity to interview all of the officers and deputies involved, and that two internal investigations had been completed.
“The way Deputy Blount handles the entire situation is extremely troubling. As a result, I’ve served Deputy Blount a notice of termination,” the sheriff announced at the end of the video.
Sheriff Essick has declined to say exact what policies Deputy Blount may have violated during the incident, The Press Democrat reported.
However, he said that Deputy Blount had not activated his bodycam at the scene.
“This shows that I have set high standards for the Sheriff’s Office and our employees,” Sheriff Essick said. “When they do not meet those high standards, I’m not afraid to call them out on it and take action, and I did.”
Deputy Blount has an opportunity to appeal his termination, The Press Democrat reported.
And law enforcement experts have said the case isn’t as cut-and-dried as Sheriff Essick has made it seem.
Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and use-of-force expert, said the bodycam doesn’t make it obvious that Deputy Blount’s actions were unreasonable and said other factors played into the incident, The Press Democrat reported.
“We don’t let dangerous individuals decide the speed and the method of how they are going to get out of the car,” Obayashi explained.
He also said that deputies had every reason to assume that Ward was the armed man who had stolen the car a few days earlier, according to The Press Democrat.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below: