Sonoma County sheriff body-cam footage shows violent struggle that led to driver’s death

Sheriff Mark Essick said Friday he is firing the deputy who put a stranglehold on a driver that turned out to be the owner of a vehicle previously reported stolen. Here is a breakdown of what the footage shows.|

The video released Friday by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office begins with Mark Essick explaining that the car David Ward was driving the morning of his fatal Nov. 27 encounter with deputies had been reported stolen in a violent carjacking days earlier.

A deputy had spotted the car that morning and had tried to stop the driver, who wouldn't pull over, leading to a vehicle chase. The deputies didn't realize, Essick says in the video, that the driver was Ward, 52, a Bloomfield resident who'd gotten his car back but hadn't reported that to law enforcement.

“It remains a mystery as to why he fled our deputies,” Essick says.

Essick explains that force was used to get the man out of his car, he suffered a medical emergency and later died at the hospital.

The footage offers a close-up view of what starts as a standard police pursuit across a network of rural west county roads before 6 a.m. Deputy Jason Little, in the lead vehicle, relays matter-of-fact details of the direction, speed and situation of the chase to a dispatcher as Ward's car speeds ahead of him and two Sebastopol police officers.

An attempt by Little to stop Ward's car by knocking it and forcing it into a spin fails, but Ward stops long enough for Little to open his driver door and command Ward at gunpoint.

“Show me your f--king hands! Show me your hands! Show me your hands now!” Little yells, the first of many expletive- laden commands used by officers throughout the encounter.

Ward takes off again, the chase resuming. Little reports speeds of 50 to 73 mph as they travel deeper into Bloomfield along Bloomfield Road. The pursuit ends soon after Ward turns on to a side road, Sutton Road, that dead ends. Little hits Ward's car again and the chase ends just after 6 a.m.

Tension continues to build

The tension depicted on the video escalates.

“Show me your f--king hands!” Little yells, pointing his handgun at Ward in the driver's seat. The Sebastopol officers join and also yell: “Hands up! Hands up now” and “Don't move! Get your hands up!”

Ward can be seen in the driver's seat of the green Honda looking at Little, his hands going up and down. For two minutes, the law enforcement officers repeat commands for him to show his hands, to keep them up and to put them on the steering wheel as he continues to shift in his seat and move his arms, appearing at one point to be trying to follow the shifting commands.

Blount arrives about two minutes later, gun drawn, and quickly moves toward the car, his handgun pointed at Ward.

The man is ordered repeatedly to put his hands on his head and to use one hand to unlock the car door. Ward moves his left hand down to the door several times, apparently in an attempt to comply with orders to unlock the door.

“I can't believe this. I'm the injured party in this,” Ward says to the deputies through the closed window. “Why are you harassing me all the time? What is it?”

Both ramp up use of force

Moments later, through a now opened car door window, Blount tells Ward to put out his hands. Blount, acting alone at first, grabs Ward's left arm and starts to pull him out through the window.

“Get out of the car,” Blount yells.

“‘All right all right I'm getting out,” Ward answers.

Ensuing footage is a close-up blur of the struggle by the two deputies to get him out as Ward moans and yells in pain.

“My legs. My legs,” he says.

“He's stuck, Charlie,” Little tells Blount.

“He bit me. F--k,” says Blount. “Ah, mother f--ker, he just bit me.”

As deputies continue to try to pull Ward out of the car through the window, both ramp up their use of force. Blount, who has Ward's head partially out of the driver's window, shoves Ward's face into the door frame and then bashes his head harder into the frame as Little shocks Ward with his Taser twice.

Blount then reaches further in through the window and wraps his right arm around Ward's neck, applying a type of stranglehold that he would not release for about a minute.

“Stop moving,” Blount says.

‘We're fighting him'

Little reports to dispatch about the use of his Taser and Blount relays: “We're fighting him, trying to get him out of the car.”

Moments later, Ward, who can be heard breathing during the encounter, is removed by the officers through the passenger's door, where he is handcuffed as he lies face down on the ground.

“He f--king bit me, too,” Little says. “Oh f--k, he broke my skin.”

Medical aid had been summoned moments earlier, when Ward was inside the car.

About 40 seconds later, Blount asks “Is he conscious?” followed by Little saying, “We need medical, man. Get medical.”

They try to roll him onto his side.

“Hey, wake up wake up,” says Deputy James Falberg, who had joined those at the scene.

The officers discuss whether Ward is conscious and breathing. “There we go, he's breathing,” says one. “He is?” asks Blount. “OK, good.”

They then check the man's pockets, talk about the bites suffered by Blount and Little and report Ward is still breathing.

Blount, standing over the man, tells someone to “keep monitoring his breathing and sh--.”

“No problem, we got him, alright,” says one of the unidentified officers.

Unanswered questions

While Ward is monitored on the ground, others go through his car, looking for any weapons or anything suspicious, one reporting he's found a knife in the car. They also try to determine why the driver's door wouldn't open, deciding Ward had never unlocked it.

The video then shows a new deputy on the scene, Deputy Nick Jax, who tells the others: “This is the owner of this car. That's David Ward.”

Little wonders: “Why did he run?”

“I don't know why he ran,” Jax answered, but told the law enforcement officers their actions were appropriate. “… all this, it's all legit.”

Jax says he'd been with Ward two hours prior at Ward's home and the man at that point didn't have his car.

They guess he'd made contact with whomever stole it and got it back.

“Oh well,” says Blount.

Ward stops breathing

One minute later the men realize Ward had stopped breathing and at least a few put on medical gloves. Blount tells a dispatcher Ward has stopped breathing and says CPR is being started. The law enforcement officers talk about not having something they need for the CPR but Blount says, “Just do it. Start it, it can't hurt to do it.”

The video ends with Essick decrying Blount's actions.

“The way Deputy Blount handles the entire situation is extremely troubling,” the sheriff says, explaining that he had served Blount a firing notice and that he would remain on leave until the end of the sheriff's internal investigation and any resulting appeals.

“Please know that this one person does not reflect the culture of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and does not represent the hard working men and women who work here,” he says.

Essick apologizes to Ward's family. “I'm sincerely sorry for your loss. Our thoughts are with you during this extremely difficult time.”

The Sebastopol Police Department also captured the altercation on body cam footage. Watch it below.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.