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Group recommends ban on restraint used by Sonoma County deputy before man’s death

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The community arm of Sonoma County’s law enforcement oversight office approved recommendations to the county sheriff’s force policy Monday night which, among several changes, proposes a ban on carotid restraints, a type of hold used by a deputy on a man who died last week after an encounter with local authorities.

The man’s death became a focal point during Monday’s meeting, where members of the Community Advisory Council outlined the proposed force policy changes they’ve developed for more than two years and community input on the recommendations.

“This most recent incident is a wake up call for the Sheriff’s Office, that they really have to look at this particular aspect of use of force,” said Rick Brown, the council’s chair, during the meeting.

The hold, which aims to temporarily knock a suspect unconscious, requires officers to place an arm around a suspect’s neck to pressure the carotid artery and block blood flow to the brain.

Proponents of the hold say, if performed correctly, it can allow officers to subdue dangerous and combative suspects without the use of more extreme force.

Critics, however, say officers can have a difficult time performing the hold without blocking a person’s windpipe and causing them to stop breathing. Objections over the use of what some members of the public call chokeholds or strangleholds have intensified statewide and nationally in recent years.

“We’ve seen all over the country that the carotid hold can result in death,” said Santa Rosa resident Linda Evans, who attended the meeting.

The council’s vote to conditionally approve the proposed policy changes, which will need to be revised to incorporate public feedback gathered Monday before they are sent to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, comes weeks ahead of the Jan. 1 start date for AB 392. The state law requires officers to use deadly force only when “necessary,” instead of the current “reasonable” standard.

The law came to fruition earlier this year in the aftermath of several fatal police shootings statewide and has prompted a review of the Sheriff’s Office’s use-of-force policy, a process Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said was currently underway.

The council’s recommendations are only suggestions and Essick will make the final decision on what changes, if any, are made to the policy. Essick said he would consider the council’s recommendations but said he could make no promises to commit to any of the proposals as of Tuesday.

“I take their recommendations seriously and I appreciate it,” Essick said. “But at this moment, I’m not able to make a decision on it.”

Monday’s meeting came on the heels of the in-custody death, which played out the day before Thanksgiving after an early-morning chase involving a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy, two Sebastopol police officers and a person in a car reported stolen days prior. The chase came to a halt in the unincorporated community of Bloomfield, west of Petaluma, when the group used patrol vehicles to block in the driver, who had initially stopped but fled from police about five miles north.

A second deputy joined the group, who ordered the driver to get out of the car, demands he did not follow. The two deputies at the scene were bitten as they attempted to remove the driver through a window, authorities said.

Deputies then struck the man with their fists, elbows and knees and deployed a taser on the man before one of the deputies, Charlie Blount, placed an arm around his neck in an attempt to use a carotid hold, according to police. While the tactic helped officers pull the driver out of the car and place him in handcuffs, deputies soon reported the man was no longer breathing. He died at a hospital about an hour after his confrontation with the local authorities. The driver was identified Monday as David Glen Ward, 52, the owner of the car, though authorities said he did not make that known to police.

Findings from an autopsy, conducted by the Marin County Coroner’s Office, won’t be public until the conclusion of an independent investigation by the Santa Rosa Police Department into his death.

While Sonoma County deputies are allowed to use the hold when a suspect is violent, resisting or if they indicate they may hurt themselves or others, deputies are cautioned against using the hold on certain vulnerable groups. They include pregnant women, children and the elderly, as well as people with noticeable neck injuries.

Essick said the use of the carotid hold among his deputies was rare and was something the department tracked. Regardless, deputies train on the use of the hold every quarter as part of mandatory 2-hour training sessions that cover other tactics, such as the use of batons and handcuffing.

“It’s a use of force tool like any tool,” Essick said of the hold. “It has its advantages and it has its disadvantages.”

He referred questions about whether Blount had undergone the training to the Santa Rosa Police Department, saying he did not want to comment on the case as Santa Rosa officers carried out their investigation.

Besides a ban on the carotid hold, other proposed changes include prohibiting deputies from shooting at people in moving vehicles unless that person poses a deadly threat by means other than the vehicle, a requirement already included in the new law.

Language that would require officers to use the lowest amount of force to make an arrest, as well as to weigh the severity of the crime or suspect’s resistance before choosing what level of force to use, was also included.

Monday’s meeting was the council’s last public act, as the terms for each member expire at the end of the year.

Councilman Jim Duffy expressed sympathy for the deputies involved in the in-custody death during the two-hour meeting, which was attended by about 16 people. Sonoma County Sheriff Assistant Sheriff Jim Naugle and Lt. Shawn Murphy, who oversees the department’s professional standards unit and its internal affairs investigations, were also present.

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