Sonoma County prosecutors Wednesday dismissed a resisting-arrest and assault case against a 28-year-old Forestville man who was subdued by several jail officers and shocked with a Taser multiple times on the jail floor as he was being booked on a drunken-driving charge.
Esa Wroth entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor drunken-driving charge and was given credit for time served by Commissioner Jennifer Dollard.
The plea deal came as trial was set to begin on 11 charges, including a DUI and two felonies: resisting arrest and assaulting a correctional officer.
A recording of the incident was posted online by Wroth’s defense attorney, who characterized the behavior as “horrible brutality.”
The 29-minute recording, taken by a jail employee, shows Wroth being punched and kicked by correctional deputies, who also shocked him numerous times with a Taser in an effort, they say, to subdue him.
Jail officials said the level of force was appropriate given Wroth’s aggressive behavior when he was receiving a routine medical check upon entry to the jail. They said the intoxicated man ripped off a blood-pressure cuff, pulled a pulse monitor from his finger and attempted to bowl over a nurse.
Deputies tackled him and were preparing to put him in a restraint chair when he began physically resisting them, the department said.
Wroth pulled out the Taser’s barbs, tried to grab a Taser and attempted to bite a deputy, the department said. Ultimately, Wroth was restrained without serious injury to himself or deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Wroth’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger of Santa Rosa, claimed “absolute victory” with the dismissal, vowing to file a federal lawsuit against the county within a day for alleged violations of Wroth’s civil rights.
“They have an awful lot of explaining to do,” Schwaiger said, adding that he believed media coverage pressed prosecutors into dismissing the case — in addition to the current protests about perceived police brutality in cases nationwide.
“They didn’t want to be cast in the same light,” he said.
He said there were “a ton of felonies committed — but none by my client.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said the resisting arrest and assault case — filed as a felony by Schwaiger’s current law partner, former prosecutor Victoria Shanahan — couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a Sonoma County jury.
In the end, Wroth pleaded to a charge that can be used as a prior DUI if he is arrested again, Staebell said.
“We looked at the totality of the circumstances and felt we were not going to be able to prove to 12 people that he resisted law enforcement,” he said. “We looked at the climate of the day.”
Wroth maintained he was a passenger, not the driver. He told authorities the driver was a friend of his, whom he didn’t name, and who ran off after their vehicle crashed on Jan. 2, 2013. The pair had been out drinking at the Forestville Club.
It would have been difficult to prove Wroth was driving, Staebell said, and much of the alleged resisting and assault occurred before the recording began.
“That’s a central issue,” Staebell said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, staff followed standard practice in recording the video when Wroth became physically aggressive.