Meeting over Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office in-custody death draws large, critical crowd
Outrage over the death of a Sonoma County man, who was declared dead about an hour after two local deputies attempted to pry him out of his car last November in a violent interaction, dominated conversation during a recent community meeting held by the county’s Sheriff’s Office watchdog.
About 50 people attended Monday’s town hall hosted by Sonoma County’s independent law enforcement auditor, Karlene Navarro, at the Sonoma Human Services’ Petaluma location.
Navarro, whose oversight office was created in 2015 in response to a fatal deputy- involved shooting of a Santa Rosa teen two years before, said she organized the meeting after learning that the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office would release video of the in-custody death of Bloomfield resident David Ward, 52.
The footage, made public just over three weeks after the Nov. 27 in-custody death, showed how Sonoma County Deputy Charles Blount rammed Ward’s head into the frame of his 2003 Honda Civic twice and then wrapped his arm around Ward’s neck for about a minute in an attempt to get him out of the car.
Ward had reported his car stolen by a man with a gun days earlier, but neither Blount, the second deputy, nor two Sebastopol police officers who also responded knew Ward was the car’s owner and that he had recovered it, authorities said.
The second deputy, Jason Little, also attempted to get Ward out of the car and fired his electro-shock weapon at Ward twice before Ward was pulled out of the vehicle. Dispatchers were notified Ward did not appear to be breathing and CPR was started. Ward, who was taken to a hospital, was declared dead about an hour later.
Navarro said she anticipated the footage, which was accompanied by news that Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick intended to fire Blount as a result of his actions during the vehicle stop, would be traumatic for Sonoma County residents to watch and she wanted to provide a venue for people to express their opinions about what they saw.
“We can all sit in a room and be an echo chamber,” Navarro said after the meeting. “Or we can sit down and talk about (the in-custody death), pluck out good ideas, put them together in an organized fashion and take them to the sheriff and say, ‘This is what the community wants.’ ”
Attendees of Monday’s meeting shared frustrations over the circumstances surrounding Ward’s death, though some also aimed their criticism at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which did not send an employee to the gathering.
That fact angered several people who attended, including Elizabeth Cozine, a former member of the community council that Navarro oversees.
“Where is the sheriff tonight?” Cozine said during the meeting. “I am shocked over that.”
In an emailed response, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia said Sheriff’s Office representatives do not attend meetings held by Navarro because the agency does not want to interfere with her mission “to talk with people who might not feel comfortable talking to law enforcement.”
Additionally, he said department officials are not allowed to discuss Ward’s death publicly right now, but that Navarro is sharing residents’ feedback with the Sheriff’s Office.