PETALUMA (KPIX 5) — Several dozen community members gathered here at a county building in Petaluma to discuss the choking death of a Sonoma County man at the hands of a sheriff deputy.
The Town Hall meeting was called by Karlene Navarro, the law enforcement auditor with the Sonoma County Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (OLERO), which was set up to hold police officers in the county accountable.
Navarro said the community still has unanswered questions regarding the death of David Ward, 52, who died the day before Thanksgiving after he was pulled over by Sonoma County Sheriff Deputies.
In body camera video released by the sheriff, it becomes clear that Deputy Charles Blount thought Ward was a suspect, but it turns out Ward had been a victim of a carjacking.
Deputy Blount put Ward in what’s called a carotid chokehold while another officer used a taser on him. Ward eventually died. Last month, the sheriff announced he was firing Deputy Blount.
Some community members at Monday’s meeting said they were concerned about the behavior of the deputies as they approached the suspect.
“You know, you heard them yelling and screaming at him. ‘Put your hands up, put your hands down!’” said Martin Hamilton, a Sonoma County resident. “I mean, there were all escalations. And then they’re tasering him. And trying to pull him out through the window? I mean, that was ridiculous.”
Navarro has recommended to the sheriff that he ban using the carotid chokehold, but the sheriff has declined so far. Navarro says it is an ongoing conversation that needs more research.
“Who’s using the carotid hold and what happens when an agency bans it? Does something else get put in its place? Do injuries go up from say, tasers or baton use? Does it make the community more safe and officers less safe? He’s open to hearing answers to those questions before making a decision about banning the hold itself,” Navarro said.
Navarro said she is still awaiting the full results of the investigation into Ward’s death and acknowledged the many questions from community members during the meeting about how the other deputies and officers conducted themselves as they approached Ward.
“In terms of deputy Blount, the general consensus is that he violated policy and he was terminated for it,” said Navarro. “Once we get the full investigation, we start examining these other questions about what the other officers at the scene were doing. What did they do and what did they not do?”