Video casts new light on use of force in Santa Rosa jaywalking case
A videotaped confrontation between a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy and a 51-year-old woman suspected of jaywalking casts doubt on the deputy’s sworn statement about what happened and underscores the need for police cameras, the woman’s lawyer said Friday.
The 30-second video of the Jan. 23 incident near downtown Santa Rosa was taken shortly after Celeste Moon allegedly bolted across College Avenue at Humboldt Street and ran from the deputy.
It picks up after Moon is stopped a short distance away by Deputy Charles Blount, who is seen standing behind her. They talk for a moment before Blount puts an arm around her neck and throws her to the ground.
The video, taken by a neighbor, contradicts Blount’s court testimony earlier this week that he placed both of his hands on Moon’s shoulders and pushed her down, said Moon’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger. The 17-year law enforcement veteran did not know the video existed before testifying before Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, Schwaiger said.
The judge on Friday declined to dismiss the case or make a ruling on the deputy’s honesty. But she directed prosecutors to consider whether the gap between his testimony and the video affects the deputy’s credibility.
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The case illustrates the importance of video in an age of heightened police scrutiny over the use of force, Schwaiger said. He will return to court next week to set a trial date.
“But for this video, Celeste Moon would be convicted of this crime,” said Schwaiger.
A sheriff’s spokeswoman said she has not seen the video and assumes that Blount testified to the best of his recollection. She said the Sheriff’s Office has not received a complaint about the incident from Moon.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said his office requested a transcript of the hearing and would review the deputy’s testimony.
“We are looking at it,” Staebell said Friday. “We’re aware of it. We’re aware of the court’s comments.”
A transcript of the hearing was not available Friday.
Moon, a single mother and Santa Rosa Junior College student, said she was walking home from culinary school classes around 4:45 p.m. when the confrontation occurred.
She was crossing College Avenue toward Cherry Street when she heard a voice behind her telling her she needed to wait for the light to change, Schwaiger said. The woman, who claims people yell at her frequently when she is walking, shouted back an obscenity and continued across, Schwaiger said.
“She doesn’t know he’s a cop,” the lawyer said.
She became scared and started running when she heard a car door open and the sound of someone getting out and coming after her, Schwaiger said.
Moon continued running until the deputy caught up with her and tried to put handcuffs on her, the lawyer said.
The video, apparently taken from the second floor of a nearby building, shows the two from the shoulders up, standing next to some trash cans.
Moon can be heard complaining to the deputy, “You’re going to pull my arms out! You’re going to hurt my arms!”
The deputy then slips an arm around her neck, putting her in a headlock, before tugging her backward. They fall out of view.
Moon’s loud screams are captured on audio. “Help!” she yells several times.
Five police vehicles were called in for backup and Moon was hauled off to jail, Schwaiger said. She was charged with jaywalking and resisting arrest.
He said the deputy’s overreaction was compounded by his mischaracterization of what happened. The judge played the video three times after Blount testified during an evidence hearing, Schwaiger said.
“It’s inexplicable,” Schwaiger said. “How do we get from jaywalking to this? Is there no other way to get control of a 51-year-old disabled woman other than grabbing her by the neck and body-slamming her to the ground?”
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com. On Twitter @ppayne.