BLOOMFIELD, Calif. — A California man who died during a confrontation with deputies last month was accused of stealing his own car during a chase that ended when one of his pursuers violently slammed his head against the vehicle’s window frame and placed him in a chokehold designed to make him lose consciousness.
David Glen Ward, 52, stopped breathing during the Nov. 27 incident in rural Sonoma County, where deputies’ body cameras captured the final moments of his life. The Petaluma man, whose family said he was partially incapacitated by a drunk driver two decades ago, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said Friday in a video statement, which included the disturbing body camera footage, that Deputy Charlie Blount has been fired for his violent confrontation with Ward.
“The way Deputy Blount handles the entire situation is extremely troubling,” Essick said. “As a result, I have served Deputy Blount a notice of termination.”
Blount, a 19-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, had been on administrative leave since Ward’s death, the sheriff said. The deputy will remain on leave until the conclusion of the investigation and until all his appeals for his job have been exhausted.
A second man, Sonoma County Deputy Jason Little, is also on administrative leave, KTVU in Oakland reported. Little used his Taser on Ward during the altercation that ended with his death.
Essick told the news station that Blount never attempted to deescalate the situation with Ward before using force against him.
Harry Stern, a lawyer representing Blount, told Buzzfeed News his client was not responsible for Ward’s death.
“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 (a) crime,” Stern said in a statement.
The events leading to Ward’s death began on Nov. 24, when he reported his green Honda Civic stolen. In statements released in the days after the fatal confrontation, Sonoma County and Santa Rosa authorities said an off-duty Santa Rosa detective spotted the vehicle around 5:41 a.m. on Nov. 27 in unincorporated west Sonoma County and notified a county dispatcher.
Little, who was the closest deputy, tried to pull the driver over. At the time, he believed the driver to be the carjacker who had stolen the car three days earlier.
It turned out to be Ward behind the wheel.
The police footage shows Ward’s face was still battered and bruised from the carjacking.
“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 Friday. “The suspect had pistol-whipped him and stolen his car.
“Mr. Ward had recovered the car but failed to report it.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ward’s next-door neighbor, Rene Gutierrez, said he had introduced Ward to Estrada, who Ward welcomed into his home.
“He schmoozed his way right in,” Gutierrez said. “Then he brought his girlfriend. That’s when the trouble started.
Gutierrez said he heard the sounds of a fight Nov. 24 and went to Ward’s house, where he saw Estrada, known as “D,” beating Ward with a handgun. Estrada and his girlfriend fled the scene in Ward’s car.
A mutual acquaintance told Ward a few days later that his car was in Santa Rosa, and the acquaintance drove him there to get it back, the Chronicle reported.
Ward initially began to pull over after he was spotted driving the car home, but then sped away and led Little and two police officers on a pursuit, the body camera footage shows.
“They tried to stop the car with a PIT maneuver (pursuit intervention technique) but it was unsuccessful,” the initial statement from the Sheriff’s Office said. “A PIT maneuver is when a peace officer uses a patrol car to abruptly turn a fleeing car sideways, causing the driver to lose control and stop.”
The pursuit, which reached speeds over 70 mph, ended about 7 miles away from its beginning, on a dead-end road in Bloomfield, a rural community about 11 miles southwest of Santa Rosa. Little forced him to a stop by using his patrol car to box Ward’s vehicle in.
Ward remained in the car and fought the deputies and officers as they tried to arrest him for driving a stolen car and evading arrest. They used a Taser on him, as well as a carotid restraint hold, or a “sleeper” hold.
The move places pressure on the carotid artery in a person’s neck, causing them to lose consciousness.
“After deputies placed the man in handcuffs, he had a medical emergency,” the initial Sheriff’s Office statement said. “Deputies began life-saving measures and requested medical personnel. The man was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department and the Marin County Coroner’s Office stepped in to investigate Ward’s death.
In the footage released Friday, Little’s body camera captures everything that took place after he tried to pull Ward over. The deputy attempts the PIT maneuver, ramming Ward’s car.
The footage shows Little using his open door as a shield as he pulls his service weapon and orders Ward to show his hands. Ward speeds off and Little tells dispatchers the driver refused to show his hands.
“Subject refused to show hands, kept moving towards his waist,” Little says.
“Copy. Refused to show hands and kept moving towards his waist,” a dispatcher responds.
As the pursuit continues, Ward’s speed exceeds 70 mph. The line of cars, led by Ward and including Little and Sebastopol police officers Andrew Bauer and Ethan Stockton, can be seen blowing through multiple stop signs.
Little ultimately stops Ward’s car with a successful PIT maneuver, the footage shows.
Watch the body camera footage of David Glen Ward’s traffic stop and subsequent death below. Warning: The footage is graphic in nature and contains explicit language. It may be too disturbing for some viewers.
“Show me your (expletive) hands!” Little shouts at Ward, his gun again drawn and aimed toward the car. “Turn off the (expletive) car!”
Ward’s face can be seen in the driver’s side window of his car. He appears to be muttering to himself or responding to the officers through the closed window, though his words can’t be made out.
Little and the officers continue holding Ward at gunpoint, ordering him repeatedly to keep his hands in view. An approaching siren screams to a halt as another patrol car arrives on the scene.
The occupant of that patrol unit appears to be Blount, who is heard asking how many people are in the car. Little responds that Ward is alone.
“Let me get up there,” Blount says as he is seen for the first time, approaching the car with his gun drawn. After trying to open the Honda door but finding it locked, Blount orders Ward to use one hand to unlock it from the inside.
Ward’s hands go up on his head and back down again several times as he is ordered to keep them up but also ordered to unlock the car.
Ward rolls down the window.
“I can’t believe this. I’m the injured party in this,” Ward tells the deputies.
“Don’t move your (expletive) hand,” Little says.
“Why you (expletive) harassing me all the time?” Ward asks, putting his hands back on top of his head. “What is it?”
Without further comment or question, Blount begins trying to pull the man out of the car through the window.
“Give me your hands, give me your (expletive) hands,” the deputy orders. “Get the (expletive) out of the car.”
“All right. I’m getting out, I’m getting out,” Ward says.
Ward starts screaming in pain.
“My legs. My legs,” he cries.
His legs are apparently pinned under the steering wheel as the deputies tug on his upper body.
“He’s stuck, Charlie,” Little tells Blount.
As they struggle with him, Ward apparently bites the deputies, both of whom cry out and utter expletives. Ward appears to call for help as Blount continues tugging on him, pulling him about halfway out of the window.
The deputy suddenly slams the side of Ward’s head against the window frame of the driver’s side door with an audible crunch. Little almost simultaneously deploys his Taser on the man.
“I’m (unintelligible),” Ward groans as he writhes in pain. “I don’t have (unintelligible).”
Little shocks him again with the Taser.
It is at this point that Blount starts using the carotid artery restraint hold. He is seen leaning into the window and putting an arm around Ward’s neck.
“Stop moving your hands,” Little commands as Blount uses the hold on Ward.
Ward can be heard gasping for air as Blount keeps the hold in place.
“Mother (expletive). Break that window,” Little tells a Sebastopol police officer, who busts the passenger-side window and gains access to the car as Blount maintains pressure on Ward’s neck and Little keeps the Taser on him.
Ward, who has been struggling to breathe for nearly a minute, quiets and goes limp in the driver’s seat.
A groaning Ward is yanked from the car and laid face down on the ground, where he is handcuffed. It is at that point -- about 30 minutes after Ward’s car was first spotted by the off-duty Santa Rosa officer -- that deputies start to realize he may be in trouble.
“Is he conscious?” Blount asks.
“No. We need medical, man. Get medical,” Little says.
Another deputy is seen rolling Ward over onto his side and telling him loudly to wake up. He rubs his knuckles on Ward’s chest to stimulate a pain response and rouse him, but the effort fails.
“He’s not conscious,” Little says. “If no pulse, start CPR.”
A moment later, one of the police officers says Ward is breathing.
“Keep monitoring his breathing and (expletive),” Blount tells the officers.
The deputies and officers check Ward’s pockets for weapons and find none. Blount and Little, who bemoan the bite wounds left on them during the struggle, search the Honda, where they find a knife.
Ward did not appear to be armed with the knife during the confrontation, however.
A colleague, Sonoma County Deputy Nick Jax, arrives on the scene and recognizes Ward from his report of the stolen car days earlier.
“This is the owner of this car. That’s David Ward,” Jax tells Little and Blount.
“Then why did he run?” Little asks.
“I have no idea why he ran,” Jax said. “He had no reason to run. But I was out with him earlier, like two hours ago, at his house.”
Jax tells the deputies Ward’s car wasn’t there two hours before.
“Obviously, somehow, he made contact with the guy and got it,” Jax says.
“Oh well,” Blount says as he appears to busy himself tucking his shirt back into his pants.
“He’s not breathing anymore,” says an officer monitoring Ward’s condition.
“Start CPR on him,” Blount says as he continues fixing his pants.
Jax performed CPR on Ward until paramedics arrived, according to the Press Democrat. He was taken to Petaluma Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Ward’s cause of death is still under investigation by the Marin County Coroner’s Office, Essick said.
Stern said in his statement to the media that Ward had serious health issues. The attorney also said Ward had methamphetamines in his system, though nothing has been made public by authorities to back up that claim.
The sheriff said investigators don’t know why Ward fled the traffic stop, or why he failed to tell deputies the car was his once he was stopped. The video shows that the deputies did not tell him why he was being stopped or question him once the pursuit ended.
“It remains a mystery as to why he fled from our deputies,” Essick said.
He said in his video statement that the Sheriff’s Office releases body camera footage so the public has the details of critical incidents, regardless of whether the footage shines a positive or negative light on the agency.
“Please know that this one person does not reflect the culture of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and does not represent the hard-working men and women who work here,” Essick said.
He said he is committed to ensuring deputies work within established policies and maintain the standards that are in place.
He offered condolences to Ward’s family.
“I’m sincerely sorry for your loss,” Essick said. “Our thoughts are with you during this extremely difficult time.”
Ward’s family told the Press Democrat earlier this month that he had trouble walking and breathing, the mobility issues the results of a near-fatal car crash about 20 years ago.
“He had to learn how to walk all over again,” his mother, Ernie Ward, told the newspaper.
In recent years, he had also been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and a heart condition, his family said. David Ward used an oxygen tank and often had to rely on a wheelchair to get around.
“He had a hard time breathing and it’s hard to imagine him having even the energy or force to aggressively avoid an arrest,” his half-sister, Catherine Aguilera, said.
The Press Democrat reported that the Sheriff’s Office permits the use of a carotid artery hold but said a deputy can use it only if he believes the suspect it is used on is violent or a danger to himself or others.
The deputy must also be trained in the maneuver. It was not immediately clear if Blount, who was a Santa Rosa police officer for nearly two years before joining the Sheriff’s Office in 2000, is trained in the technique.
Stern described Essick’s decision as “hasty” and a “product of panic, political expediency and hindsight,” according to KTVU in Oakland. He said he is confident that the medical evidence will exonerate Blount by proving David Ward died of pre-existing conditions and showing there was no trauma to his neck.
Deputy Chief Marin County Coroner Roger Fielding told KTVU that the defense attorney’s comments were “surprising,” considering that the cause of Ward’s death won’t be determined for several more months.
Ernie Ward told the news station in an interview that her son’s physical limitations made him move very slowly. She said it would have taken him at least 10 minutes to get out of his car after being ordered to do so by deputies.
The grieving mother said she had not watched the video of her son’s final minutes but is aware of the allegations against Blount. She was also aware of the sheriff’s decision to fire the longtime lawman.
“I think that was good,” the 85-year-old Ward said. “He needs to be fired.”
David Ward’s friends and family described his life as a rough one but remembered him as a kind person who loved the outdoors.
“He was warm and welcoming,” neighbor Rose Morris, who had known Ward for about 30 years, told the Press Democrat. “Always very talkative and friendly. That’s how I remember him. That’s how he was.”
Aguilera said she was stunned by the death of her brother, who would have turned 53 years old days after his death.
“I was devastated to hear the news,” Aguilera told the newspaper. “Of course, there’s the sorrow of losing someone, but the nature of the incident makes it even more disturbing.”
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