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.