Sonoma County deputy who used neck hold before Bloomfield man's death retires amid appeal over firing
A Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who was told he would be fired for his violent confrontation with an unarmed Bloomfield man who died soon after retired earlier this month.
Sheriff Mark Essick announced in a December video that he served a notice of termination to then-?deputy Charles Blount after two internal affairs investigators reviewed the Nov. 27 in-custody death of 52-year-old David Ward. But during the termination process, Blount resigned from the Sheriff’s Office, effective Feb. 7, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia said.
Blount, 60, will not receive any severance pay, Valencia said. When asked via text message if Blount would be eligible to receive a pension, Valencia replied, “All I know is that he retired.”
Blount, who had been on paid leave ever since the incident and worked for the Sheriff’s Office for more than 19 years, did not give a reason for his resignation in his paperwork, Valencia said. He had previously filed an appeal of the proposed firing, soon after Essick made his public announcement. His San Francisco-based attorney, Harry Stern, did not respond Friday to multiple requests ?for comment.
Essick said the way Blount handled the confrontation with Ward was “extremely troubling” in announcing his plan to fire the deputy, which came at the end of a video release containing body-worn camera footage from another deputy that provided the first public view of what happened that day.
The video showed sheriff’s deputies, including Blount, and Sebastopol police officers surrounding Ward’s car once it came to a stop after a high-speed chase. Authorities initiated the pursuit after recognizing that the car Ward was driving had been reported stolen, but they didn’t learn until later that the car was being driven by its owner.
Blount tried to pull Ward from the car by his left arm, but soon cried out that Ward bit him. He then smashed Ward’s head into the side of the car before wrapping his arm around Ward’s neck. Authorities initially described the technique as an attempted carotid hold - a controversial restraint designed to block blood from flowing to the brain and render a person unconscious. Blount kept Ward in the hold for more than a minute, ordering him to “Stop moving.”
Deputies and officers removed Ward from the car, handcuffing him and placing him facedown on the ground nearby. Soon after, he stopped breathing. The cause of his death has not yet been publicly disclosed, pending the official autopsy report, which is being completed by the Marin County Coroner’s Office.
Ward’s family has said he had serious health conditions, including difficulty breathing and walking, after he was hit by a drunken driver several years ago, and that he suffered from lung disease and a heart condition.
The Sheriff’s Office initiated two administrative investigations into Ward’s death - the first focusing on Blount’s actions and the second reviewing the entire incident. In addition, Santa Rosa Police Department is handling the criminal investigation into Ward’s death.
After that investigation is complete, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether to file charges.
Both Valencia and Santa Rosa Police Lt. Dan Marincik said Blount’s resignation would have no effect on the ongoing investigations.
“Regardless if he were to stay working here or appealed his termination, or retired, it doesn’t change the investigation,” Valencia said.
Karlene Navarro, the county’s law enforcement auditor, said she learned about Blount’s resignation Wednesday. She also received the Sheriff’s Office’s completed investigation into Blount, though she has yet to review it. After she does, she will determine whether it was thorough and complied with the law.
Though she said it’s difficult to estimate when that might be, she added that it typically takes her about half the amount of time it takes the Sheriff’s Office to complete their investigations. In this case, it took the Sheriff’s Office about three months to complete their investigation into Blount.
Catherine Aguilera, Ward’s half-sister who lives in Monroe, Washington, said she thought Blount’s resignation was “so appropriate” - for her family and the community, which has been actively following the investigations into Ward’s death. She added that she hopes the investigations will create change and prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.
“Hopefully it will bring about more of an awareness of excessive use of force,” Aguilera said. “It just sounds promising that there can be some changes made.”
Izaak Schwaiger, the attorney representing Ward’s family, said he was “glad” Blount was no longer a sworn officer, but that, in his opinion, it wasn’t enough. Ward’s family hired Schwaiger after learning more about the facts surrounding Ward’s death, as well as prior allegations of excessive force against Blount, two of which resulted in settlements.
Schwaiger has already begun the process of filing a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force by Blount, among other allegations, against the county and Blount on behalf of Ward’s family.
“The idea that a person under these circumstances would be allowed to quit and walk away, though, is a little bit shocking,” Schwaiger said. “The fact that he’s not a cop anymore - that’s a good thing, but it’s not going to be sufficient.”
You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.
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