Sonoma County sheriff addresses fatal shooting by deputy; plans to release bodycam footage in two weeks

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick says he anticipates his agency will produce the entire body camera footage from a deputy’s killing of immigrant farmworker David Pelaez-Chavez in two weeks, though he warned it might take longer.

The agency is working to release the video as quickly as possible, Essick said in a Friday interview with The Press Democrat, though he said there is only one staff member in charge of redactions because of budget confines.

In his first public remarks on the case since the July 29 shooting, Essick expressed condolences to the family.

Jose Pelaez, brother of David Pelaez-Chavez, and other family members have called for more transparency from the Sheriff’s Office around the killing.

“This is a terrible situation,” Essick said.

“And I can't imagine what it'd be like to lose a son or a daughter or wife or a husband or brother. Every time something like this happens, I try to put myself in the shoes of the family and think about what they're going through, and I can't imagine. I would be devastated.”

During the chase, the deputies had been issuing commands in poorly spoken Spanish, which may have led to confusion on Pelaez-Chavez’s part.

Having reviewed footage of the incident, Essick said the deputies were “doing the best they can with their limited Spanish speaking ability to communicate with (Pelaez-Chavez). They were acting in a way that to me seems like they were trying to de-escalate the situation.”

On Aug. 14, the Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook a video showing select segments of the body camera footage from the two deputies who pursued Pelaez-Chavez through a remote part of the Knights Valley east of Healdsburg.

The deputies were responding to reports that the man had broken a window and stolen a car amid a series of erratic acts around residences in the rural area.

The 11-minute, 37-second video includes approximately six minutes and 20 seconds of footage from the body cameras of deputies Michael Dietrick and Anthony Powers, according to a Press Democrat analysis.

More than 2.5 hours of footage exist, according to officials.

But Essick offered a public assurance that the complete footage would not change public understanding of the shooting itself.

“There is not going to be any difference,” he said. “There’s nothing that has been omitted or removed.”

Pelaez-Chavez’s brother and civil rights attorney Izaak Schwaiger, who now represents the family, have accused Essick’s office of seeking to set a narrative around the death by only providing select video segments accompanied by law enforcement’s interpretation of events.

A caption in the Sheriff’s Office video states that Powers fired his Taser at Pelaez-Chavez, “which seemed ineffective.” Officials have previously said Dietrick’s fatal shots followed the use of the Taser.

In the agency’s initial news release about the incident, officials wrote that “after a standoff with multiple commands to drop the weapon, one deputy deployed his Taser, but it appeared ineffective; the second deputy shot the man.”

The video released so far is less clear. Though the footage is shaky as the deputies move around, Powers’ use of his stun gun and Dietrick’s pistol shots appear to happen nearly simultaneously.

“I suppose that could be open to speculation,” Essick said of that moment in the video. The department took pains to be accurate in its narration on this video and previous ones, he said.

The videos are produced through a consultant hired by the agency for that video curation work and for overall strategy and assistance in dealing with the media.

In some prior uses of force, Essick has addressed the public through critical incident videos. Notably, in the first release of body camera video following the 2019 in-custody death of David Ward, Essick spoke into the camera following the footage and announced he was pursuing the dismissal of Charles Blount, the deputy who killed Ward with a now-banned carotid choke hold.

Essick said he halted the practice of speaking to the public following criticisms that it appeared he was using the prestige and authority of his office to “sway” opinion, he said. But he also said the actions of the deputies in the two incidents did not appear comparable.

After watching the Ward video, Essick immediately acted to remove Blount from the department.

An internal investigation into whether Powers and Dietrick violated administrative policy is ongoing along with the Santa Rosa Police Department’s investigation into whether the two deputies followed the law.

“I'm not ruling out one way or the other, but I'm not seeing the blatant violations like I saw in the Blount case,” Essick said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88