Newly released police body camera footage shows a carjacking victim being slammed against his car, shot with a stun gun and grabbed in a chokehold by sheriff’s deputies in Northern California after they mistook him as the robber who stole the vehicle.
The man, 52-year-old David Glen Ward, died shortly after the encounter.
The bodycam footage was released on Friday as part of a video posted online by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. In the video, Sheriff Mark Essick apologized to Ward’s family and explained that his deputies mistook Ward, who’d reported his car stolen on Nov. 24, as the possible carjacker.
Ward had not informed authorities he’d recovered his vehicle, Essick said, so deputies pursued the car when they spotted it the morning of Nov. 27. Instead of pulling over, however, Ward sped off and led police on a five-mile pursuit before finally stopping on a dead-end street, the sheriff said.
“What our deputies did not know at the time was that Mr. Ward was not only the owner of the car, but the victim of the earlier carjacking,” Essick said in the video. “The suspect had pistol-whipped him and stolen his car. Mr. Ward had recovered the car, but failed to report it. It remains a mystery as to why he fled from our deputies.”
Still, the sheriff described the actions of Deputy Charlie Blount, who slammed Ward’s head against the side of a car and placed him in a chokehold after finally stopping the vehicle, as “extremely troubling.”
“As a result, I have served Deputy Blount with a notice of termination. He has been on administrative leave since this incident occurred and he will remain on leave until the conclusion of this investigation and all potential appeals have taken place,” Essick said.
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The bodycam footage shows Blount, Deputy Jason Little and a number of other officers around Ward’s car after the vehicle was stopped.
In the video, Blount orders Ward — who deputies feared might be armed — to unlock his car door with one hand. Ward is seen apparently trying to unlock the door, but is unable to do so.
Rolling down his window, Ward says: “I can’t believe this. I’m the injured party in this. Why you...harassing me all the time?”
“Give me your hands, give me your...hands. Come out,” Blount, a 19-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, tells Ward as he begins trying to pull the man out through the car window. “Get him...out of the car.”
As deputies attempted to pull Ward out of the vehicle, the man yelps in pain. “My legs, my legs,” Ward shouts.
Blount notes that Ward’s legs appear to be trapped under the steering wheel.
In the scuffle, Ward allegedly bites both Blount and Little.
“Ah...he just bit me,” Little is heard saying.
As Blount pulls Ward from the car, he’s seen slamming the man’s head against the side of the vehicle. Little twice uses his stun gun on Ward.
Blount then puts Ward into what appears to be a carotid restraint, a hold that blocks a person’s carotid arteries and causes them to lose consciousness. As The Washington Post noted, several police departments banned the maneuver in the 1980s and 1990s after it was linked to the deaths of suspects.
Following Ward’s death last month, the community arm of Sonoma County’s law enforcement oversight office recommended the sheriff’s office ban carotid restraints ― calling Ward’s death “a wake-up call.”
After being placed in the chokehold, Ward ― unconscious ― was pulled from car. Officers initially said he was breathing, but later expressed concern that he’d stopped.
Another sheriff’s deputy arrived at the scene and identified Ward as the rightful owner of the car.
“This is the owner of this car. That’s David Ward,” the officer says, noting that he has “no idea why [Ward] ran. He had no reason to run.”
“I was out with him earlier, like two hours ago, at his house,” the officer adds.
“Oh well,” Blount responds.
Officers performed CPR on Ward, but he was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
A Northern California sheriff's deputy has been put on notice that he will be fired for putting a chokehold on a man who later died. https://t.co/HLFg4n4vz4
In the body cam video, Little is heard saying that Ward had a knife in the car. Blount’s attorney later claimed Ward may have had drugs in his system.
“Frankly, Mr. Ward caused his own death by inexplicably taking a number of bizarre actions that confirmed in the deputies’ minds that he was an armed carjacker, rather than the victim of that crime,” the lawyer, Harry Stern, told the Post in a statement. “It is my understanding that the medical evidence will show that Mr. Ward had a serious preexisting condition and had methamphetamine in his system — most significantly, there were no indications of trauma to his neck.”
Officials have released no information about any weapons found in Ward’s car or substances that may have been in his body.
The Marin County Coroner’s Office is reportedly still probing Ward’s death.
Essick said he released the bodycam footage “so the community can get as full a picture as possible about critical incidents in our county, regardless of whether it puts us in a good light or bad.”
“Please know that this one person does not reflect the culture of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and does not represent the hardworking men and women who work here,” Essick added.
Catherine Aguilera, Ward’s half-sister, told the Press Democrat that her brother had lived with disabilities and serious health issues including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a heart condition.
Aguilera said Ward had nearly been killed by a drunk driver about 20 years ago. He used an oxygen tank and often relied on a wheelchair to move around, she said.
“He was in poor health,” Aguilera told the paper. “He had a hard time breathing and it’s hard to imagine him having even the energy or force to aggressively avoid an arrest.”