A veteran lawman and candidate for Sonoma County sheriff testified this week against a former deputy, saying the deputy lacked any legal authority to kick in a man’s bedroom door and shoot him with a stun gun as he lay in bed.
Capt. Mark Essick, who was head of patrol at the time of the 2016 Sonoma Valley incident, took the stand against Scott Thorne, who along with two other deputies had responded to a report of a domestic dispute.
Essick said Thorne failed to establish a crime had been committed before crashing through Fernando Del Valle’s door and shooting him with a stun gun when he wouldn’t get off his bed. His use of the stun gun and a baton appeared to be in violation of the department’s use-of-force policies and possibly a crime, Essick said.
Asked under cross-examination what Thorne should have done when Del Valle wouldn’t open the door, Essick responded that he should have walked away.
“I’m saying they didn’t have the authority to kick the door down,” Essick told Thorne’s lawyer, Chris Andrian. “So yes, they should turn around and leave.”
Essick is one of three candidates competing in the June sheriff’s race, the first contest for the seat in a quarter century. The others are retired Santa Rosa police lieutenant and City Councilman Ernesto Olivares and retired Los Angeles police captain and Sebastopol resident John Mutz.
They are vying to replace Sheriff Rob Giordano, who was appointed to the post in August after the retirement of Sheriff Steve Freitas. He has vowed not to run for office.
Essick, a 24-year sheriff’s office veteran, is endorsed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors and the sheriffs’ deputies union. If elected, he would oversee a department with 630 employees and a $180 million annual budget.
In campaign events, Essick has touted his community relations experience as well as his work creating policies on the use of force.
He was given a chance to explain his background from the witness stand in the Thorne trial, which started March 5. He will testify again Monday morning in the courtroom of Judge Shelly Averill.
On Thursday, he told prosecutor Bob Waner that he reviewed the deputies’ body camera recordings and determined Thorne violated department protocol and possibly broke the law.
“What I saw and observed caused me great concern,” he told Waner.
Under cross-examination, Essick was grilled about basing his opinion on the recordings alone and not interviewing the deputies, who testified earlier in the week that Thorne did the right thing under the circumstances.
Deputies had been called to Del Valle’s house before and feared on that night the ex-Marine might be hiding a gun, Andrian said.
He cited the groundbreaking case of Maria Teresa Macias, who was shot to death by her estranged husband in 1996 after Sonoma County deputies failed to enforce a restraining order. The county paid $1 million to her family to settle the resulting civil lawsuit.
“That was an eye-opener for you, wasn’t it, in law enforcement?” Andrian asked.
“Yes,” Essick responded.
But Essick suggested the Thorne case was different. Deputies failed to properly investigate what was happening, brushing past Del Valle’s wife when she let them in the front door.