Sonoma County deputy who used neck hold before man's death had previous excessive force accusations
The Sonoma County deputy who last week used a controversial neck hold on a man who died a short time later used a similar restraint on a woman in 2015, then gave testimony that contradicted video of the incident.
Past allegations of excessive force involving Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Blount and his contradictory statements in the 2015 arrest have come under scrutiny this week, while authorities revealed more details Thursday about the events leading up to the death of the man after Blount applied a carotid hold the day before Thanksgiving.
Police said Blount attempted the hold on Bloomfield resident David Ward, 52, after he led two Sebastopol officers and a separate Sonoma County deputy, Jason Little, on a chase through west Sonoma County.
Ward, who refused their orders to open the car’s door, had reported the vehicle stolen by an armed suspect days prior but did not tell officers that he had recovered the 2003 Honda Civic earlier that morning, police said. He was attempting to drive it home when he was stopped and then fled, authorities added.
Ward was pronounced dead at a local hospital about an hour after his contact with the deputies. The cause of his death is not yet publicly known.
The carotid hold, which aims to knock a person unconscious, requires deputies to wrap an arm around a suspect’s neck to reduce blood flow to their brain, though if done incorrectly can block the person’s airways instead.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office allows the hold in their force policy but deputies are told to avoid the tactic on certain populations, such as pregnant women or the elderly, unless there are no better options.
In the 2015 case, Blount testified he had pushed Celeste Moon, 51, to the ground after placing both hands on her shoulders. But video from a witness played in court of a portion of her Jan. 23 arrest showed him put his arm around her neck before throwing her to the ground.
Moon allegedly ran from Blount after he tried to stop her for jaywalking near Humboldt Street and College Avenue in Santa Rosa, court transcripts show.
Though Blount put his arm around Moon’s neck, the restraint shown in the video lasts for a brief moment and resembles a headlock.
Moon did not lose consciousness.
Prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to move forward and the case against Moon was dismissed. Izaak Schwaiger, Moon’s lawyer, said Blount did not know the video existed before it was played in court.
Jamie Thistlethwaite, the judge overseeing the case, took the unusual step of directing prosecutors to include Blount, then a 17-year law enforcement veteran, in files that document officers with credibility issues, Schwaiger said.
But when Schwaiger represented clients in a separate case months later, in which Blount described performing a carotid hold on an unruly, intoxicated man April 4, 2015, Schwaiger said he received no such advisory from prosecutors of potential credibility problems.
In that case, Blount described using the restraint to control the man, who was regaining consciousness after falling and hitting his head on a door, copies of his report provided by Schwaiger showed. Blount got on his knees behind the man and executed a carotid restraint hold after determining “that our best chance of controlling (him) was to prevent him from standing” when the man began flailing and resisted attempts to control his arms, he wrote.
The man’s name was redacted from the documents. No civil case was ever filed in the matter, Schwaiger said.
Not on Brady list
Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell confirmed in emails Thursday that Blount was not placed on what is referred to as the Brady list of officials with credibility issues after the Moon case.
The judge made no finding about whether Blount was dishonest during his testimony and nothing else in her ruling qualified as Brady evidence, he added.
Attempts to reach Blount for comment via multiple email addresses and phone numbers were unsuccessful Thursday. Both he and Little remained on administrative leave, Sonoma County Sheriff Juan Valencia said.
When asked about the Moon case, Valencia said he could not comment on the deputy’s personnel records.
He directed questions about a related internal affairs investigation in that case to Sonoma County’s County Counsel Office.
“Anytime force is used on a person, we look into it and it’s always a concern to us to make sure the deputy or deputies were within policy,” Valencia said when asked about civil rights lawsuits that named Blount.
The two previous cases shed light on instances in which Blount favored the use of neck holds to gain control of an individual prior to last week’s in-custody death, despite what officials describe as a rarely used tactic among the law enforcement field.