Charges dismissed in Santa Rosa jaywalking arrest caught on video
Criminal charges were dismissed Wednesday against a Santa Rosa woman whose video- taped confrontation with a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy cast doubt on his sworn statements about what happened when he arrested her for jaywalking.
The 30-second video of the Jan. 23 incident near downtown Santa Rosa was taken shortly after Celeste Moon, 51, allegedly bolted across College Avenue at Humboldt Street and ran from the deputy.
It shows Moon was 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.
Defense attorney Izaak Schwaiger said the video taken by a neighbor contradicted Blount’s testimony that he placed both of his hands on Moon’s shoulder and pushed her down.
The 17-year law enforcement veteran did not know the video existed before testifying, according to Schwaiger.
On Wednesday the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office moved to dismiss the charges against Moon, saying there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the video, which was presented at the last minute, was part of the evidence that was considered, but she declined to say what part it played in deciding not to prosecute Moon.
“All we can say is we evaluate all the evidence and weigh that against the burden of proof and decide whether we will prevail,” she said. “If we decide we can’t determine the truth of the matter because the evidence comes up short, we dismiss the case.”
Ravitch declined to comment on her reaction to the video, or whether the prosecution would have proceeded without it.
But Schwaiger asserted that the officer perjured himself.
He said Moon is likely to bring a civil lawsuit against the deputy who “used an unreasonable amount of force for the most minor infraction you can find, and lied.”
Blount could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman previously said she assumed he testified to the best of his recollection.
Schwaiger last month asked Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite to dismiss the resisting arrest charge against Moon, arguing that the video showed misconduct and dishonesty by the deputy.
According to a court transcript, the judge said Schwaiger “is correct in his analysis, based on the testimony of the officer.” However, Thistlethwaite declined to dismiss charges, saying that Moon ran inappropriately from the deputy.
Moon, a single mother and Santa Rosa Junior College student, said she was walking home from culinary classes around 4:45 p.m. when the confrontation occurred.
She said she was crossing College Avenue when she heard a voice behind her telling her she needed to wait for the light to change.
Moon, who claims people yell at her frequently when she is walking, shouted back an obscenity and continued to cross, according to her testimony. She claimed she didn’t know it was an officer and became scared and started running when she heard a car door open.
Prosecutors expressed skepticism of Moon’s account because the officer was in a marked patrol car wearing a full police uniform.
Moon continued running until the deputy caught up with her and tried to put handcuffs on her.
The video, apparently taken from the second floor of a nearby building, shows the two from the shoulders up.
Moon yells “No I can’t, I’ve had back surgery!” “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 backwards as they fall out of view.
Defense attorney Schwaiger said the deputy’s testimony will cast doubt on his reliability as a witness in future cases. And he said the District Attorney’s Office should review past convictions that rested on Blount’s testimony.
“I have received no information that necessitates review of every case this officer has been involved in,” Ravitch countered.