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The parents of a man who died after being restrained and shot with a Taser during an encounter with Rohnert Park police filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week against the city and two officers.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the parents of Branch Wroth, accuses Officers David Sittig-Wattson and Sean Huot of recklessly disregarding Wroth’s rights when police were called to check his welfare. After finding a misdemeanor arrest warrant, the officers pushed him to the ground, put him in handcuffs and shocked him with a stun gun in the back about four times, according to the lawsuit.

Wroth fell unconscious and died at the scene.

“Branch wasn’t hurting anybody, and according to initial reports, when the cops showed up he asked for help,” said the family’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger of Santa Rosa. “They ended up killing him.”

Wroth’s parents, Christopher and Marni Wroth of Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, are suing the officers and city under a statute that applies when a government entity or its officer causes death, depriving them of the right to be with their son and receive the comfort and support of a family member.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Rohnert Park Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz declined to discuss the lawsuit. Both officers were back on duty, he said. Schwartz referred questions about the case to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the death.

A sheriff’s spokesman said the investigation has not been completed.

A construction worker who grew up in Forestville, Wroth, 41, was staying at the Budget Inn on Redwood Drive in Rohnert Park in May when he died.

Police were called to the inn about 3:15 p.m. May 12 by a security guard who said Wroth appeared to be “acting strangely,” according to the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department.

The officers found Wroth in a hotel room and said he appeared incoherent and in an altered state, Rohnert Park Police Sgt. Jeff Justice told The Press Democrat in initial interviews about the case. Wroth told the officers he had been poisoned with chemicals, according to the sergeant.

The officers discovered an outstanding warrant for Wroth’s arrest — a misdemeanor arrest warrant for possession of concentrated cannabis, a DUI and a violation of a court order — and Wroth agreed to be handcuffed, officials said.

While being detained, Wroth “became combative” and the officers deployed a stun gun charge and forced him to the ground, according to police.

Wroth stopped moving or responding to commands, and appeared unconscious. The officers tried to revive him and couldn’t. Paramedics also administered CPR but Wroth died at the scene.

The Sonoma County coroner’s office has not yet stated publicly how Wroth died or whether he was under the influence of a substance at the time.

The Sheriff’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of the officers, a routine process under a countywide agreement that another local law enforcement agency comes in to review in-custody deaths.

Sgt. Spencer Crum said the office had not completed its review, which looks at whether the officers committed any crimes.

The Sheriff’s Office also is in charge of the autopsy and cause of death determination.

Branch was the Wroths’ oldest child, and had three brothers and two sisters. He is survived by a 17-year-old son.

“We are irrevocably broken, his Dad and I,” Marni Wroth said in an email. “We remain stunned and overwhelmed that Branch isn’t a part of our lives; that his death was sudden, violent and unnecessary.”

Marni Wroth said she couldn’t discuss the lawsuit, but added “we know his death was unnecessary. We believe the proof of this will eventually be known to all.”

One of Branch Wroth’s younger brothers is Esa Wroth, who was paid $1.25 million by Sonoma County stemming from a lawsuit regarding his treatment while being booked into the Sonoma County Jail. He was shocked with a stun gun 23 times while he was being booked on a drunken-driving charge.

Schwaiger said the Wroth family has not been given any reports or explanations about what occurred between Branch Wroth and the Rohnert Park police officers.

The only document they have received from the police — through a public record’s request — was a brief Taser deployment log officers are required to use when deploying the device.

The involved officers, Sittig-Wattson and Huot, were initially put on paid administrative leave after the incident. Schwartz declined to say when they returned to work.

Huot was a relatively new hire, having started working for the city in January, according to Schwartz. Huot was likely on probationary status with the department, a duration of 18 months.

Sittig-Wattson has been with the department for three and a half years.

Officials have not described the roles of each officer during the encounter, including who deployed a stun gun and who used what type of restraint techniques.

Wroth’s family suspects he died from what’s called positional asphyxiation, a result of having his handcuffed arms pulled back behind him with the weight of one or more officers on his body, Schwaiger said. He was also shocked multiple times in the back by a stun gun charge and was likely intoxicated, Schwaiger said.

“All of those are risk factors for positional asphyxiation,” Schwaiger said.

A Sonoma County Superior Court judge ordered the autopsy be recorded, a compromise with Wroth’s parents who asked permission to have an independent forensic pathologist present during the procedure.

Autopsies involving people shot by police include an additional layer of review that doesn’t occur in deaths involving stun gun use, which led the family to push for an independent observer of the findings, according to Schwaiger.

The family was also concerned because the forensic pathologist scheduled to conduct the examination had less than a year of experience and none with Taser-related cases, he said. It’s unclear who ultimately conducted the autopsy.

The family has not yet received a video of the autopsy and Judge Elliot Daum Friday put the release of the video on hold until an appeals court considers the county’s request to withhold it. County lawyers argued the court doesn’t have the authority to issue orders affecting criminal investigations.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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